Rastafari originated among impoverished and socially disenfranchised Afro-Jamaican communities in 1930s Jamaica. Its Afrocentric ideology was largely a reaction against Jamaica's then-dominant British colonial culture. It was influenced by both Ethiopianism and the Back-to-Africa movement promoted by black nationalist figures like Marcus Garvey. The movement developed after several Christian clergymen, most notably Leonard Howell, proclaimed that the crowning of Haile Selassie as Emperor of Ethiopia in 1930 fulfilled a Biblical prophecy. By the 1950s, Rastafari's counter-cultural stance had brought the movement into conflict with wider Jamaican society, including violent clashes with law enforcement. In the 1960s and 1970s it gained increased respectability within Jamaica and greater visibility abroad through the popularity of Rasta-inspired reggae musicians like Bob Marley. Enthusiasm for Rastafari declined in the 1980s, following the deaths of Haile Selassie and Marley.

Rastafari has been characterised as a millenarianist movement, for it espouses the idea that the present age will come to an apocalyptic end. With Babylon destroyed, Rastas believe that humanity will be ushered into a "new age". In the 1980s, Rastas believed that this would happen around the year 2000. In this Day of Judgement, Babylon will be overthrown, and Rastas would be the chosen few who survive. A common view in the Rasta community was that the world's white people would wipe themselves out through nuclear war, with black Africans then ruling the world, something that they argue is prophesied in Daniel 2: 31–32. In Rasta belief, the end of this present age would be followed by a millennium of peace, justice, and happiness in Ethiopia. The righteous will live in paradise in Africa. Those who had supported Babylon will be denied access to paradise. The Rasta conception of salvation has similarities with that promoted in Judaism.

Rastas do not believe that there is a specific afterlife to which human individuals go following bodily death. They believe in the possibility of eternal life, and that only those who shun righteousness will actually die. One Rasta view is that those who are righteous are believed to go through a process of reincarnation, with an individual's identity remaining throughout each of their incarnations. Barrett observed some Jamaican Rastas who believed that those Rastas who did die had not been faithful to Jah. He suggested that this attitude stemmed from the large numbers of young people that were then members of the movement, and who had thus seen only few Rastas die. In keeping with their views on death, Rastas eschew celebrating physical death and often avoid funerals, also repudiating the practice of ancestor veneration that is common among African traditional religions.

Rasta men are permitted to have multiple female sex partners, while women are expected to reserve their sexual activity for their one male partner. Marriage is not usually formalised, although there are many Rastas who are legally married. Rasta men refer to their female partners as "queens", or "empresses", while the males in these relationships are known as "kingmen". Rastafari places great importance on family life and the raising of children. The religion emphasises the place of men in child-rearing, associating this with the recovery of African manhood. Women often work, sometimes while the man is left to raise the children at home. Rastafari typically rejects feminism, although since the 1970s there have been increasing numbers of Rasta women calling for greater gender equity within the Rastafari movement. Clarke encountered Rasta women in Britain who expressed feminist sentiment and criticised sexism within the religion. Some Rasta women have challenged gender norms by wearing their hair uncovered in public and donning trousers.


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