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August 2nd, 2012
08:20 AM ET

Snoop Dogg is a Rasta now, so what's Rastafari?

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) - Rapper Snoop Dogg announced Monday that he's burying his name and old career, all because of a religious experience with Rastafari, an Afrocentric religion with origins in Jamaica. Snoop Dogg wants to be called Snoop Lion and instead of rapping on his latest album now he'll be singing reggae.

"I want to bury Snoop Dogg and become Snoop Lion," he said at a Monday press conference. "I didn't know that until I went to the temple, where the high priest asked me what my name was, and I said, 'Snoop Dogg.' And he looked me in my eyes and said, 'No more. You are the light; you are the lion.'

"From that moment on," Snoop said, "it's like I had started to understand why I was there."

Snoop Lion has a new single, "La la la," and a documentary "Reincarnated," which follows his recent trip to Jamaica and chronicles his conversion experience. It debuts at the Toronto Film Festival next month.

So what exactly is Rastafari? Here are some basic questions and answers:

1. How old is Rastafarianism?

The Rastafari movement began in Jamaica in 1930 and quickly spread.

"It's an Afrocentric faith that... focuses on the return to Africa of its members," says Richard Salter, a religious studies scholar from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York who studies the movement. "Sometimes that return is a return in body, actually going back to Ethiopia, and sometimes it's more of a spiritual return."

Nathaniel Murrell, a religion professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, said the movement Rastafari grows out of the Judeo-Christian tradition and out of the colonial experience. He says Jamaicans oppressed by colonial overlords saw the new faith as a means of liberation.

A key belief for Rastas is the notion of death to all white and black oppressors; the religion embodies a theological push for equality on all levels.

Salter points to Bob Marley's "Redemption Song," as a key to understanding that point.

"The line, 'emancipate yourself from mental slavery,' - if someone can convince you that you are inferior, then they have really oppressed you," Salter said. "So you can emancipate yourself from that and recognize the divine within you, your real value."

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2. So what do Rastafaris believe?

Rastas believe in God and use the term Jah, shorthand for Jehovah, a name for God that is common in the Jewish scriptures. Many Rastas see Halie Selassie I - the longest serving emperor of Ethiopia, who died in the 1970s - as a Christ-like figure.

Experts point to a wide diversity in the faith but say there are six key groups of Rastas, called mansions, that would be similar to denominations in other faiths.

Rastas hate "isms" and "ians" because of the value they place on all individuals. As a result, Rastas prefer the term Rastafari as opposed to Rastafarian or Rastafarianism to describe the movement.

Noel Leo Erskine, a professor of theology and ethics at Emory University in Atlanta, says it's nearly impossible to gauge how many people call themselves Rastas because there are no formal churches or membership structures and no hierarchy.

Erskine said that based on Jamaican migration and the prevalence of Rastas globally - he notes the presence of groups in Israel and Tokyo - his best guess is that there are around 1 million self-professing Rastas around the world.

3. How do Rastas practice their faith?

The most common outward expressions of Rastafari are Rastas' dreadlocks, penchant for smoking marijuana and vegetarian diets.

Rastas read the Bible and several other religious texts, though because the movement is so diverse there is no single canon.

Lifestyle choices are important for Rastas. Allowing one's hair to grow into long, matted dreadlocks serves as a reminder to practitioners that they have made a covenant to live naturally, Salter said.

Marijuana smoking is seen as sacramental to Rastas, who believe it brings clarity and strength (more on that below).

Another central practice is something called "reasoning." Rastas get together and smoke and have a "reasoning" session in which they hash out important spiritual ideas.

The practice of vegetarianism comes from Rastas "ital lifestyle" short, for vital, and according to Salter is intended to promote life in all its forms.

4. What's the Bob Marley connection?

Marley brought Rastafari to the American masses in the late 1970s and early 1980s through reggae music. It was massively popular and brought a watered-down version of the movement to the popular consciousnesses.

Snoop said this week that he had no plans on recording a reggae album in Jamaica but that, "When the spirit called me and basically told me to find something that is connected toward the Bob Marley spirit, because I've always said I was Bob Marley reincarnated."

Marley, the world's most famous reggae singer and practitioner of Rasta, died in 1981.

Emory's Erskine said that as Snoop moves forward with his music, he should look to the reggae star.

"Within Rasta there are guidelines, guidelines of dignity and songs of empowerment," he said. "I think Bob Marley provides a good guide for him in terms of the way forward and way not to belittle women and belittle others."

5. Is it a religion?

"[Rastas] are insistent that they don't see Rastafari as a religion because religion exposes itself to manipulation by people in power, so they see it as a lifestyle, as a way of life practiced by Rastas," Erskine said.

That said, there are many who practice the way of life with the same devotion found in other faiths. Religious scholars classify Rastafari as a religion.

Rastafari has provided sanctimonious cover for loads of college students more interested in the sacrament of ganja then the tenants of the faith. Remember that kid who lived on your dorm floor, grew dreadlocks, hung a lion flag, and smoked a lot of weed?

"That's been something the movement has had to struggle with," Salter said. "They have to define who a Rasta is. Is it a 21-year-old sitting in a drum circle out in the woods in some Northeastern liberal college taking bong hits, or does it require something else?"

6. So do they really smoke a lot of weed?

Yes. A lot.

Sometimes called the wisdom weed, Rastas believe the marijuana plant first grew from the grave of King Solomon, who the Bible calls one of the wisest men ever to walk the planet.

Salter notes Rastas believe smoking the herb is biblically sanctioned, though he points out they believe "it is not for recreation, but a food that feeds their spirit.”

“I bet Snoop Dogg, excuse me Snoop Lion, is particularly interested in that,” he added, noting the musician's advocacy for supporting the legalization of marijuana and his frequent use of it in music videos.

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7. So is the Snoop thing a gimmick to sell records?

It's too early to tell whether Snoop will stick with his awakening as a Rasta. Rastas don't convert; rather, they "awaken" to the faith they see as always having been there.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Americas • Culture & Science • Faith Now • Media • Music • Race

soundoff (906 Responses)
  1. damien7

    Yo, I just changed my name to Snoop Lion
    But no matter how hard I be trying
    no records the people be buyin
    why is my career dying?

    BEEEEEEEEEOTTTTTCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    August 2, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • Kris

      not bad my man, you got serious skills. hell yeah.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • damien7

      Yo, I just changed my name to Snoop Lion
      But no matter how hard I be trying
      no new records da people be buyin
      why is my career dying?
      So now Im sighing
      starving wife and kids be cryin
      multiple baby sireing
      bank account drying
      no bacon frying
      no producers hiring
      my street creds tireing
      so now Im police defying,,
      bank vault prying
      The D.A.'s Inquiring
      bout Stolen funds I'm wire-ing
      backs to bustin da caps in some a$$$ cuz I aint lying!
      BEEEEEEEEEOTTTTTCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      August 2, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  2. Socal Reggae

    August 2, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  3. PeterD

    Rastafari was originated by Hindus who came to West Indies as British Slaves from India in 1800's and after two three genration it diluted to Rastaferi.

    August 2, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • So

      Afrocentric faith ...does that explain the hair...Afro?

      August 2, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Mavent

      Wrong.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  4. God

    Rastafaris don't like "ians" and "isms," yet they practice vegetarianism (a word that contains both)?

    August 2, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  5. cole

    i think that's awesome Snoop has found spirituality in the Rasta faith!!! jeesh, the man found something he felt comfortable in expressing a desire for being closer to "God". to each there own, i mean he could of stated a new found belief in something terrible for gawd's sakes!!! changing is name to Lion from Dogg?? so what, maybe he feels he's matured over the years, the man has been in the business for along time, successfully even. he can do what ever the hell he wants!!! his friends and fans will always call him Snoop!!! i don't know the mentality of some of these people writing in ( it's like you're from the 50's) smoking marijuana is cerebral !!!! different substances are just that different, someone high on oxycons are going to behave and feel different then being high on booze!!! different, o.k.? " i don't care what you say being high is being high!!!" Be Quite.

    August 2, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  6. Jah

    Good for him! And definitely brilliant for his brand.

    August 2, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  7. oodoodanoo

    If he really wanted to be different, he would have become a Jewish country singer.

    August 2, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Kris

      You mean he's not a Jewish country singer already? I thought all Jews who enjoy country music also enjoy sippin on Gin and Juice.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  8. msjackson

    Weed comes from the earth and anything of the earth is GOOD is God's eyes. With that said NO I do not smoke pot I don't find it useful to my lifestyle. The focus of this article is not about weed and neither should the comments. Let Snoop Lion live is life in peace and prosperity. JAH

    August 2, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Camdens_Log82

      Yeah, like hot lava or poison ivy, right?

      August 2, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Kris

      I love weed but not sure I can agree that everything on Earth is good and/or to be ate, smoked, etc. Rat Poison comes to mind. Asaparagus does too.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • saywhat?

      Camdens has just given evidence to show how illogical and silly the bible, therefore, christianity are. Hey christians, maybe if you try a little ganja you may be enlightened, too.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • Kris

      @saywhat - careful my man, don't lump everyone into a category. I'm a Christian and love the green. when you stereotype you're just as bad as the hypocrites who stereotype.

      August 2, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  9. Brooklyn

    stupid!

    August 2, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  10. Aquahealer

    I want to see someone change their name to Jesus Christ.....if there's hundreds of them out there, let's see some coverage....do they hold up to the original?

    August 2, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • msjackson

      Plenty of Latinos are named Jesus

      August 2, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Kris

      Funny. The other day I did online chat with my cable company and the rep's name was Jesus. No joke, the whole conversation starts with "Hi Kris, I'm Jesus and here to help you today." I'm like, yes!

      August 2, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  11. Honey Badger Dont Care

    I'd rather be a Pastafarian. The FSM heaven has a beer volcano and a stri-pper factory. And even if you don’t go there, their heII is the same as their heaven except the beer is flat and the stri-ppers all have V D.

    Can I get a R’amen?

    August 2, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @Honey Badger Dont Care

      Yeah... you definitely get a Ramen on the Heaven part.... not so much on the h-e-ll ! 8O

      Peace...

      August 2, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • shenaningans

      Badger, watch out for the pirates. I've heard the Pastafarian religion is full of them.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  12. jay1776

    "It's an Afrocentric faith that... focuses on the return to Africa of its members,"

    If only we could get black Americans to take up Rastafarianism

    August 2, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • Ridge

      Unfortunately they won't physically go back.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Camdens_Log82

      Yeah, a get all caucasians back to the hillside Europe.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  13. Kelly

    SICK!

    August 2, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  14. joe

    If getting stoned out of your gourd is a "conversion experience" Cheech and Chong must be candidates for sainthood.

    August 2, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  15. works4me

    Who really gives a rats ( ! )

    August 2, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  16. Mary

    Who cares, he's still butt ugly.

    August 2, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Bobby Weird

      Sounds like someone has a crush.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  17. Scott M

    Does anyone see the reporter in the video as Kerri Kenney, Trudy Weigel on Reno 911!?

    August 2, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  18. Rant

    And these are the people who we idolize and influenced by!?

    August 2, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Paul

      If you idolize or are influenced by Snoop Lion, then you have very large problems indeed.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  19. systemYou

    People change....good on Snoop for doing what he wants.

    August 2, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  20. Jaymar

    Can we call him TAFKAD?

    August 2, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.