Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Conquering Lion of Judah

Hey friends! I’ve been so busy with grad school, and PhD program applications that I haven’t had much time to update this site (and I certainly haven’t had too many opportunities for casual reading), but I decided to make some time to write today. For the past few months, anytime I’ve gotten a few minutes, I’ve been reading a book called Rastafari: Roots and Ideology. 
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In general, I’m interested in religious history (at 5a this morning, I watched a documentary on Netflix about the origins of America’s religious landscape through my smartphone before getting ready for church). Although I’m a Christian, I respect and love to learn about all religions. And maybe I’m biased given my Jamaican heritage, but when I came across Rastafari in the bookstore, I knew I had to buy it.
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The book starts off exactly where it should: during the era of slavery in Jamaica, as the author aims to tie in some of the traditions of these Africans to the Rastafarian religion we recognize today. As he progresses through time, Chevannes discusses the changes, divisions, and spiritual leaders who shaped the faith. His first and second-hand accounts of the Rastas are both interesting and eye-opening, as I never knew so many details about Rastafarianism (such as the difference between The Bobos and The Dreadlocks, two factions within the religion).  I have, however, always respected the Rastas based on what I did know about their religion, particularly their strong anti-colonial, pro-African positions. They were rebels in a country where their captors tried to make them to assimilate to the British beliefs and standards of beauty. You have to respect a people who decide to love themselves and their heritage even when the historical psychological trauma of slavery and colonization has successfully forced many to do otherwise (we can still see the impact of this psychic trauma today, throughout the Caribbean and in the Americas).

This work is essentially the result of field research that the author, Barry Chevannes, conducted in Jamaica in the 1970s for his doctoral dissertation at Columbia University.  The Kingston-born scholar taught Sociology at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica until his death in 2010 at the age of 70.

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While the nearly 300 pages of research do not read like a novel (and I wouldn’t expect it to, since it’s academic research), the author’s attention to detail makes this book arguably one of the best sources of information on Rastafarianism. Are you interested in religious history like me? I bought this book at Barnes & Noble and it was the only copy on the shelf.  Have you seen this book at your local bookstores? Libraries?  Check it out and let me know where you find it. 


Your friend,


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