Rastafarianism in RE?

— What next? Let’s not speculate, I don’t want a Sunday newspaper journalist misquoting me as an advocate of witchcraft and who knows what else in RE. We’ll restrict ourselves to asking, is there a place for ‘fringe’ religions in RE?

Some teachers would immediately say no, and some West Indian parents would agree. To mention Rastafarians is to give ganja-smokers respect! Time is better spent on Christianity or Buddhism — wholesome, established religions. Anyway, the Rasta cult is patently based on a lie. An educated person might well realise that two thousand years ago, this last point was being made against Christianity, then a fringe religion if ever there was one.

The case for including Rastafarianism might be presented as follows:

Firstly impact. Bob Marley’s records are often in the charts. Though some Rastafarians may feel that he has used the cause for material advantage, nevertheless his songs are almost a theology and pupils who know little about the Rastas know them.

Secondly, there are often Rastafarians in our schools. To recognise their existence in the syllabus might be to help them and arouse their interest.

Thirdly, it does inject a new element into what is normally white Christianity, or something of purely Euro-Asian interest.

Fourthly, it is an example of a young, living and growing religion, a modern movement. Put another way, for once we can be in at the beginning, rather than studying something with a long history.

It is also, fifthly, an example of religion as a need-response. It is providing blacks with a sense of identity and a hope.

In this sense, sixthly, it can be studied as an example of ‘messianism’, for the Rastafarians seek a new era in a new land. It also poses the question, why are people, especially blacks, alienated from Christianity?

Finally, its inclusion in the syllabus is a means of providing non-members of the religion with accurate information.

Is Rastafarianism a religion? That need not only occasion a letter to the editor, it can be the sub-title of a secondary school topic — What is religion? Rastafarianism can be examined in the process of answering this question.

At the beginning of this short piece I asked what place should be given to ‘fringe’ religions. The term is often used in a derogatory sense and the Rastafarians, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons raise questions which take us into discussions about openness and the criteria by which we determine the parameters of religious studies. If there are thirty Rastafarians and scarcely any Asians in a school, but the RE comprises Christianity, Hinduism and Islam, the Rastas can be forgiven for concluding that this is just another example of oppression by Babylon.

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