Historical events in Jamaica have influenced every aspect of island life, including religion. Jamaica allowed settlers far more religious freedom than England did. In fact, one of the first Jewish synagogues in the region was built on the island.
While European settlers tolerated most European religions, they were less accepting of African religions. The plantation owners believed that these African religions would help to unite the slaves, allowing them to rise up in revolt. Although there was some basis for this fear, these African beliefs simply stayed out of sight for much of the period.
Since Jamaica's independence, a number of U.S.-based churches have made their way to this Caribbean island. Although the Church of England was the main religion of the plantation owners, Baptists and members of the Church of God have grown to make up a much larger portion of the population in more recent years.
A combination of Christian and African beliefs has created a number of smaller fusion religions. The most important of these combined the African religion of Myal with Christianity to form Revivalism. This religion then split into two smaller groups as well.
After the emancipation of the slaves, Jamaica attempted to survive on indentured servitude. Migrant workers from China and India made their way to the island and often stayed after their term of servitude ended. These new settlers played an important role in the island's religious history.
Rastafari is the most prominent non-Christian religion on the island. It came into prominence as a grass-roots religion in the 1930s and was promoted as an alternative to white-oriented religions. Rastafarians worship the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, or Ras Tafari. Rastafarians also believe in reincarnation and that males should not cut or comb their hair or beards. The emphasis of the belief is on nurturing the inner spirit in each person, which has affected the language with its addition of "I" as a prefix for many words. Marijuana may also be used by Rastafarians as a sacrament and a medicinal aid despite the fact that its use is illegal on the island. It is an evolving religion and culture, and not every member believes in all of these things. Its popularity, however, has spread to many other countries in the region and around the world.
Jamaica's 2001 census data breaks down religious groups as follows:
|Religious Type||Specific Denomination||Percent (%)|
|--||Church of God||24%|
|Other (including spiritual cults)||N/A||10%|
The population of Jamaica is strongly Christian, but a large number of islanders adhere to other faiths. Although Rastafarianism contains elements of Christianity, it is not considered a standard Christian denomination.
There is a great deal of variety in Jamaica's religion. While Protestantism from Europe and the U.S. has the strongest hold on the island, the faiths of slaves and indentured servants certainly made their mark here.
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