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Religion in Jamaica

by Deon Clarke | Associate Writer


Christian Church Service - New Irwin Moravian Photo: Christian Church Service - New Irwin Moravian

Whether you are visiting Jamaica, whether you are migrating to Jamaica or whether you are living in Jamaica, you will be amazed to know that Jamaica is a very religious country. As a matter of fact, Jamaica has more churches per square mile than any other country in the world. Of course, different religions are practised here, you know Jamaica- out of many, one people, lol. However, Christianity is the most practised in Jamaica. Let’s take a look at the religions of Jamaica.

The Religions of Jamaica


The Jamaican constitution provides for freedom of religion, including the freedom to worship and even to change religion. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on beliefs. However, a colonial-era law still remains that criminalizes the practice of Obeah and Myalism although it is not usually enforced. Religion in Jamaica is mostly influenced by our heritage.

While Jamaica’s Christian roots originate from Europe, there are several other forms of Christianity are also practised locally that originate from strong African influences such as; Revival Zion and Pocomania, Kumina and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Of the estimated 2.8 million Jamaicans, approximately 65% are considered to be Protestants according to the most recent census done in 2011. The religious demography of the report is broken down as follows:

  • Church of God – 26%
  • Seventh Day Adventist – 12%
  • Pentecostal – 11%
  • Baptist – 7 %
  • Anglican – 3%
  • Roman Catholic – 2%
  • United Church of Christ – 2%
  • Methodist – 2%
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses – 2%
  • Moravian – 1%
  • Brethren – 1%
  • Some Other Form of Spiritual Practice – 2%
  • No religious Affiliation – 21%

The remaining 8% constitutes of other religions such as Rastafarianism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Mormonism, Bhai.

  • Christianity – Christianity in Jamaica and all over the world is by far, the only religion that has so many different denominations and sects due to differences in opinions and interpretation of scripture. The differences vary among Christians in ways such as mode of dress, hair, food and drink, music, tithing, communion, washing of feet, speaking in tongues, day of worship and the list goes on. There are over 1600 churches in Jamaica, the most per square mile for any country in the world.

  • Rastafarianism – Approximately 29,000 members
    The Rastafarian movement or Rasta is a new religious movement that arose in Jamaica in the 1930s. At that time, the time country had a predominantly Christian culture where 98% of the people were the black descendants of slaves. Rastafarians worship Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia (ruled 1930–1974), as God incarnate, the Second Advent of Jesus Christ or as Christ in His Kingly Character, depending on their views on the Emperor. There are several groups across the island but the most popular ones are the Nyabhingi Order, the Bobo Shanti, and the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

    In 2013, the Government recognized the first Church of Haile Selassie. The Rastafarian movement has become synonymous with Jamaica and Reggae music.

  • Islam – Approximately 5,000 members
    West African Moors who were sold into the slave trade that came to the island brought their Islamic faith with them. Today, just over 5,000 Jamaicans are said to identify with the Islamic faith. In 2011, the first Ahmadiyya Muslim mosque was built in Jamaica, in Old Harbour, St. Catherine. There are currently eleven mosques scattered across the island with the most widely known being in Kingston, Spanish Town, Albany and Port Maria in St. Mary, Newell in St. Elizabeth, Mandeville, Manchester and Three Miles River in Westmoreland. The Islamic Council of Jamaica is the centre of the Muslim faith in Jamaica and is located at 24 Camp Road in Kingston. Here, meetings are held every 2 months for Muslims across the island.

  • Judaism – Approximately 500 members
    Other than Christianity, Judaism is one of the oldest practised religions in Jamaica. The Jews were present on the island as far back as 1530. Synagogues were erected in Kingston, Port Royal, Spanish Town and Montego Bay between the 1600s and 1800s but were all destroyed either by natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes or by other means such as fires. Some were simply just abandoned and became dilapidated. The remains of these old synagogues can still be found on the island. However, there is only one active synagogue in Jamaica today, The Shaare Shalom Synagogue, located at 92 Duke Street in Kingston.

  • Hinduism – Approximately 1,800 members
    The Sanatan Dharma Mandir Temple is the only Indian temple that is recognized by the Jamaican Government for Hindus. It is the first Mandir in Jamaica and was constructed in the middle of the 1970s by Pandit Munaeshwar Maragh at 114B Hagley Park Road. It is still a very vibrant place of worship with regular services held on Sun-days at 10:00 am and all major festivals observed and celebrated.

  • Bhuddism – Over 3000 members
    Jamaicans also practice Buddhism on the island with over 3000 locals identifying themselves as being Buddhists. There are two Dhammadipa Vihara monasteries which are located at 1 Duquesnay Avenue just off Red Hills Road and at 4 Upper Waterloo Close in Kingston.

  • Baháʼí - Approximately 270 members
    The Baháʼí Faith started in 1942 in Jamaica with the arrival of Dr Malcolm King, a Jamaican dentist from the United States. In 1943, the first Baháʼí Local Spiritual Assembly was formed in Kingston. 1957, they became a part of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Greater Antilles. The community grew over the years and had a strong enough presence on the island for a National Spiritual Assembly to be formed in 1962.

    The Baháʼí faith is based upon the belief that God periodically reveals his will through divine messengers, who are responsible for the transformation of the character of humankind and to develop moral and spiritual qualities in those who respond to the teachings. Religion for them is seen as orderly, unified, and progressive from one age to another.

    The 25th of July was declared as National Baháʼí Day to commemorate their 60th anniversary in Jamaica. This was done by then Governor General of Jamaica, Sir Howard Cooke in 2003 and it has been an annual event for those who practice the faith since then.

  • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – Over 6,000 members
    Also known as Mormonism, the followers of this faith are called Mormons. In 2019, there was said to be 6,668 members in 18 different congregations across Jamaica. The fundamental belief of their faith stems from Christianity and includes belief in God the Father, his Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. They believe in modern prophets and continuing revelation belief that through Christ's atonement all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel of Christ. They believe in the importance of repentance and baptism by immersion for the forgiveness of sins and also in the right of all people to worship God as they so please.

There are some marked differences however when compared to other Christian denominations. For example, most Christians believe that Jesus was born to the Virgin Mary, whereas Mormons believe that Jesus was conceived naturally. The Mormons believe in a heavenly father, who has a physical body while Christians believe in a Trinitarian God, who has no physical body.

So there you have it, so much religion to talk about in Jamaica. It’s never a dull moment! Be objective though, listen to others, you might just learn something! And, a piece of advice, stay away from heated conversations about religion, Jamaicans can be very passionate when expressing their religious beliefs. Enter every conversation with openness and true intentions to hear and understand as much as possible of the other person's point of view.

I also recommend you read Jamaican Religion An Overview.

Regards,
DC

References:

  • Jamaica 2018 International Religious Freedom Report, https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/JAMAICA-2018-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf
  • “History of the Bahá’í Faith in Jamaica”, The Bahá’í Faith, https://www.bahaijm.org/about_us
  • “Religion in Jamaica”, Visit Jamaica, https://www.visitjamaica.com/feel-the-vibe/people/faith/

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