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Definition of Religion and Related Terms
Copyright 1996 by Paul Connelly

What Is Religion?
A number of modern scholars of religion have commented on the difficulty of defining what
religion is. Over the centuries, influential thinkers have offered their own definitions, with
greater or lesser degrees of assurance, but virtually all of these definitions have been found
wanting by the majority of scholars. In some cases the definitions are too narrow, defining
religion in terms of the speaker's religious beliefs or those of his or her culture and tending to
exclude the religious beliefs of other cultures. In other cases the definitions are so vague and
inclusive that they do not sufficiently delimit religion from other areas of human thought such as
psychology, law, economics, physics, etc.
There are several problems in trying to make a definition of religion that is not overly vague
and general, but that still is inclusive enough to not leave out any of the beliefs and practices
that seem religious to most intelligent people. By their nature, religious beliefs tend to motivate
other aspects of human behavior beyond those which would strictly be considered to be of
religious concern. And the institutional structures which promote most of the so-called major
world religions have taken on, in their periods of rapid growth, many other beliefs and practices
that have little relation to the core religion but that helped a given institution to accomodate the
political and social realities of its host cultures.
The ubiquity of religion seems to argue for some innate religious instinct, on the one hand,
while the diversity of religious forms and the frequent conflicts among them seem to argue that
religion is more a socially acquired characteristic of human life, on the other hand. How do we
resolve this conundrum?
The key insight in arriving at a resolution is that religion always begins in an experience that
some individual has or that some small group of people shares. The response that this person or
group makes to the original experience is what begins the process of interaction between the
religion and the community. In extreme cases we can imagine a religion which lived and died
unknown to all but the original experiencers, because their response turned inward and never
created an interaction with others in the community; or a religion in which the response to the
original experience so quickly and completely assimilated it to the traditions of the community
that the germinal religion never acquired an independent identity. Most recognizable religions
fall somewhere between these extremes, and thus acquire the identity by which we can recognize
So we can offer the following as a definition that takes the above factors into account.
Religion originates in an attempt to represent and order beliefs, feelings, imaginings and
actions that arise in response to direct experience of the sacred and the spiritual. As this attempt
expands in its formulation and elaboration, it becomes a process that creates meaning for itself
on a sustaining basis, in terms of both its originating experiences and its own continuing


P.(1996). Definition of Religion and Related Terms.
Accessed February 17, 2014.


B.(1994). Rastafari Roots and Idealogy. New York. Syracuse
University Press.

Rastafarianism: Religion Or Crazy Fad?
by Kamau Mutunga ("The Nation," August 19, 2005)
Nairobi, Kenya - The movement began among oppressed Jamaicans spurred by interpretations of
biblical prophecy and the idealisation of Africa in the early 1930s. "No matter where we go, we
are the lions in this kingdom..."

The kingdom was Splash Waterworld, Carnivore grounds, a fortnight ago where reggae fans
were chanting to Burning Spear's Jah Kingdom. There they were, resplendent in the red, gold
and green T-shirts bearing the images of Bob Marley, Marcus Garvey and Ethiopia's Emperor
Haile Selassie, for the first Annual East African Reggae festival.

Their ragged, crowned dreadlocks framed the portrait of a fraternity that, they say, has for years
been misunderstood and held in suspicion by the wider society.

And so here we were, in search of the Rasta faithful who would help demystify the 75-year old
Rastafarian movement.

"Most Kenyans think Rastafarians are about dreadlocks, reggae music and ghetto life. But it's a
natural progression towards self realisation, besides caring for humanity," says Don Rawzi, a
former Catholic and a Rastafarian for 15 years.

Like other Rastas, he believes in the "religious" value of marijuana, reincarnation and in
Emperor Haile Selassie as a prophet and only African linkage to Jesus Christ.

He explains: "Haile Selassie was God's plan to free Africans, just like Moses did with the
Israelites. Selassie set forth the way for the independence of African rights through the
Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and setting aside land in a place called Shashamane,
Ethiopia for the settlement of displaced Africans. His lineage also goes all the way to King

Smoking marijuana - known variably as bangi, ngwai, boza, bomu, mbaga, ganja, holy herb... St
John's bread - is illegal and can land you in a Kenyan jail for 10 years.

However, to some Rastas, it is a spiritual act. Really?

Says Rawzi: "It is a biblically sanctioned communion, though non Rastas have abused it. King
Solomon said that wine is good for the heart and chalice (read Marijuana) is good for the soul.
Remember Solomon was the wisest man?"

Some faiths find it bizarre, but "Rastafarianism is not a religion, as Ras Mato (Martin Simbaoni)
puts it: "It is a consciousness of being and marijuana helps in prayer and meditation and has a
rightful place in creation and no laws should hold captive a plant that can't defend it self. Jailing
a faithful for partaking a communion, is evil triumph."

Rastas believe their bodies are temples of God, and thus don't worship in physical buildings. To
them, the chosen few will live forever in their current bodies; which was why reggae maestro
Bob Marley, never wrote a will, despite suffering from stages of advanced cancer.

"Churches are a form of commercialising spirituality and chaining the spirit, besides propagating
class inequality through adoration of the West. We believe Haile Selassie is the closest African
relative to Jesus as Christ said; He will come not as Himself in blood, but other forms, read
Selassie. Selassie also received divine protection, which was why Ethiopia was not colonised,"
explains Mato. Curiously though, Rastas seem to have no problems with the emperor's cruelty.
He is known to have kept his lions' beef supply steady when Ethiopians were starving in the
early 1970s.

But why the absence of Rastafarian missionaries? Willy Wailer, a Rastafarian for 37 years, says
that theirs is a way of life and, "no one member is singled out to lead others to salvation, all
Rastas are equal." Rawzi adds that those who lay the Rasta foundation never came to Africa and
the Rastafarian doctrine only spread through the global popularity of reggae music.

Then there is the perennial negative image. "The basic message of Rastafarian is the dismantling
of all oppressive institutions and the liberation of mankind. People don't understand that. Then
there is our hair. 'Dread' means fear and dreadlocks have always instilled fear," says Wailer.

To Rastafarians, dreadlocks are a journey of the mind, soul and spirituality; achieved without a
comb, which like the razor and scissors, are "Babylonian" (white) inventions.

"Dreads are the fullest expression of nature in man and a vow to fight for equal rights and class
inequality," says Mato.

For justification they quote the book of Leviticus 21:15- "They shall not make baldness upon
their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in the

In Rastafari: Roots and Ideologies, Barry Chevannes notes that the movement began among
oppressed Jamaicans in the early 1930s who were spurred by interpretations of Biblical prophecy
and the idealisation of Africa through socio-political aspirations from the teachings of Pan-
Africanist Marcus Mosiah Garvey.

His most famous 1920s prophecy was, "Look to Africa, for there a king shall be crowned". And
ten years later, Haile Selassie was crowned as Emperor, the 225th in an complete line of
Ethiopian kings said to be descended from the biblical King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

This prophesy is validated by some chapters in the book of Psalms and The Holy Piby
(Rastafarian bible) that says, "when a black man is a king in Africa it will be the right time to
migrate to "Zion." Zion is understood to be Ethiopia and some Rastas classify themselves as its

"Some chapters in the book of Psalms end with the word Sellae, which is Kiswahili equivalent of
thelatha or three. Which is why we believe Selassie was part of the holy trinity as his name,
Haile Selassie, means the power of the trinity," says Rawzi.

The name Rastafari comes from Ras (Amharic for prince) Tafari, Makonnen; Selassie's pre-
coronation name whom Rastas believe is the black Messiah.

The movement spread globally, through immigration and interest generated by the ragged
cadence of reggae music-most notably, that of Bob Marley. But funny enough, devote Rastas
scorn at reggae as commercial music and a "sell-out to Babylon."

Eileen Barker in New religious movements: a practical introduction notes that Rastafarianism
hasn't been recognised as a standard denomination, but like all religions, has its divisions called
orders or mansions. There is the Nyambighi, The Twelve Tribes of Israel and the Bobo Ashanti

The Bobo Ashanti was founded by Prince Edward Emmanuel Charles VII in the 1950s. Its
members, called "Bobos" or "Bobo dreads" wear turbans and robes and carry brooms to signify
cleanliness. To them, blacks are the true Israelites.

The Twelve Tribes of Israel, founded by Dr Vernon Carrington, base their beliefs on the twelve
astrological signs of the zodiac. They believe Haile Selassie is God incarnate who'll head a
universal religious order during the day of judgment.

The over one million Rastafarians have two religious ceremonies: "A reasoning," writes
Chevannes, is a simple gathering to smoke marijuana and discuss ethical, social and religious
issues. The other is a Binghi or "Grounation." It is a holiday marked by dancing, singing,
feasting and smoking weed. They take place during the Ethiopian Christmas on January 6, the
anniversary of Selassie's visit to Jamaica on April 2, and his coronation on November 2; the
birthdays of Bob Marley on February 6, Selassie's on July 23 and Garvey's on August 17.

Rastas draw extensively from the Bible, though they don't stick to what may be termed as
mainstream interpretation. For this they have been criticised for misinterpreting the Bible.

In 1996, Rastafari was officially recognised as a movement by the United Nations.


K.(2005). Rastafarianism: Religion Or Crazy Fad?. Accessed
February 17, 2014.

Rastafarianism grows in Jamaica after long disdain
November 28, 2012 4:26 PM

BULL BAY, Jamaica (AP) The robed Rastafarian priest looked out over the turquoise sea off
Jamaica's southeast coast and fervently described his belief that deliverance is at hand.
Around him at the sprawling Bobo Ashanti commune on an isolated hilltop, a few women and
about 200 dreadlocked men with flowing robes and tightly wrapped turbans prayed, fasted, and
fashioned handmade brooms smoking marijuana only as a ceremonial ritual.
"Rasta church is rising," declared Priest Morant, who wore a vestment stitched with the words
"The Black Christ." ''There's nothing that can turn it back."
The Rastafarian faith is indeed rising in Jamaica, where new census figures show a roughly 20
percent increase in the number of adherents over a decade, to more than 29,000. While still a
tiny sliver of the mostly Christian country's 2.7 million people, Jalani Niaah, an expert in the
Rastafari movement, says the number is more like 8 to 10 percent of the population, since many
Rastas disdain nearly all government initiatives and not all would have spoken to census takers.
"Its contemporary appeal is particularly fascinating to young men, especially in the absence of
alternative sources for their development," said Niaah, a lecturer at the University of the West
Founded 80 years ago by descendants of African slaves, the Rasta movement's growing appeal is
attributable to its rejection of Western materialism, the scarcity of opportunities for young men
in Jamaica and an increasing acceptance of it.
For the black nationalist Bobo Ashanti commune, the Rastafarian faith is a transforming way of
life, where Rastas strive to live a frugal existence uncomplicated by binding relationships to
"Babylon" the unflattering term for the Western world. They share a deep alienation from
modern life and Jamaica is perceived as a temporary harbor until prophecy is fulfilled and they
journey to the promised land of Africa on big ships.
Life is highly regimented at the isolated retreat, cut off from most of the comforts of modern
society. But it has a strong appeal for some, among them 27-year-old Adrian Dunkley, who
joined the strict sect two months ago after years of questioning his Christian upbringing and
struggling to find work as an upholsterer.
"This place is helping me a whole heap. I'm learning every day, and things are starting to make
sense," the new recruit known as Prince Adrian said in the shade of one of dozens of scrap-board
buildings painted in the bright Rastafarian colors of red, green and gold.
Other Rastafari adherents follow a more secular lifestyle, marked by a passion for social justice,
the natural world, reggae music and the ritualistic use of pot to bring them closer to the divine.
A melding of Old Testament teachings and Pan-Africanism, Rastafarianism emerged in colonial-
era Jamaica in the 1930s out of anger over the oppression of blacks. Its message was spread by
the reggae songs created by musical icons Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear and others in
the 1970s, and the movement has attracted a following among reggae-loving Americans,
Europeans and Asians. Academics believe at least 1 million people practice it worldwide.
In the United States, the population of Rastafarians appears to be steadily growing due in part to
jailhouse conversions, said Charles Price, associate professor of anthropology at the University
of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the author of "Becoming Rasta: Origins of Rastafari
Identity in Jamaica."
"I regularly get letters from inmates seeking information," Price said. "I also get regular
invitations to talk to prisoners at local North Carolina juvenile facilities, often from chaplains
trying to figure out what to do."
Besides the well-known ritual use of marijuana, Rastas endeavor to reject materialist values and
practice a strict oneness with nature, eating only unprocessed foods and leaving their hair to
grow, uncombed, into dreadlocks.
Most of its many sects worship the late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, even though he was
widely considered a despot in his native land and paid little heed to his adulation by faraway
Caribbean people whose ancestry tended to be West African and not Ethiopian.
The worship of Selassie is rooted in Jamaican black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey's 1920s
prediction that a "black king shall be crowned" in Africa, ushering in a "day of deliverance."
When an Ethiopian prince named Ras Tafari, who took the name Haile Selassie I, became
emperor in 1930, the descendants of slaves in Jamaica took it as proof that Garvey's prophecy
was being fulfilled. When Selassie came to Jamaica in 1966, he was mobbed by cheering crowds,
and many Rastafarians insisted miracles and other mystical happenings occurred during his visit.
Adherents were long treated as second-class citizens in Jamaica and other Caribbean islands,
looked down on for their dreadlocks and use of marijuana. But discrimination never stopped
businessmen from cashing in on the faith, whose red, green and gold clothing and accessories
earn millions in sales of T-shirts, crocheted caps and other items. Marley's music and the faith's
pot-laced mysticism has also been used to promote Jamaica as a tourist destination
Rastafarian and veteran reggae luminary Tony Rebel said discrimination against Rastas has
faded considerably in recent years in Jamaica.
"That discriminatory vibe has relaxed. But even so, we still we don't see a person with locks
working in a bank these days, we don't see a person with locks in the police force as we would
see in America or other places," Rebel said.
The first dreadlocked politician in Jamaica's Parliament was elected only last year.
Many Rastas advocate reparations for slavery and a return to Africa. The latter is a particularly
fervent desire among those at Bobo Ashanti, who differ from other Rasta sects in the belief that
their founder, King Emmanuel Charles Edwards, was the black incarnation of Jesus Christ.
Some Jamaicans dismiss the faith as bizarre.
"There is a whole part of the society that would still consider Rastafari to be delusional, and this
is largely hinged on the claims made about Emperor Haile Selassie and also the consumption of
(marijuana) and the idea of repatriation," Niaah said.
But for adherents like Prince Xavier, a 27-year-old Frenchman who moved to the Bobo Ashanti
commune a couple of years after being introduced to Rastafarians in his native Paris, it's
providing answers and a positive self-identity.
"I'm learning a lot about Rastafari and about our heritage," said the bearded Frenchman, clad in a
red turban and black robe. "It is a matter of life and death."


D.(2012). Rastafarianism Grows in Jamaica After Long
Disdain. Yahoo News.
grows-jamaica-long-disdain-174358582.html. Accessed
February 17, 2014.



P.(1996). Definition of Religion and Related Terms.
Accessed February 17, 2014.


B.(1994). Rastafari Roots and Idealogy. New York.
Syracuse University Press.


K.(2005). Rastafarianism: Religion Or Crazy Fad?. Accessed
February 17, 2014.


D.(2012). Rastafarianism Grows in Jamaica After Long
Disdain. Yahoo News.
grows-jamaica-long-disdain-174358582.html. Accessed
February 17, 2014.