Andrew W. Mellon Penn Faculty Fellow in the Humanities
2003—2004 Forum on Belief
Assistant Professor, Music
Protestant Vibrations? Reggae, Rastafarianism, and Conscious Evangelicals
Rommen is drawn to spaces of inter-religious and inter-cultural contact as contexts in which faith in theological systems and belief in cultural, social, and political systems (convictions, customs, ethics, etc.) are juxtaposed and overlapped, producing complex and interesting patterns of belief. Specifically, while at the Forum, Rommen will undertake a study of five Protestant reggae bands/artists of diverse national origin (United States, Trinidad and Tobago, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica). Each of these groups must negotiate the intersection of Rastafarian and Christian ideologies, yet Rommen observes that the farther removed they are geographically from Jamaican cultural or geopolitical space, the greater the proportion of Rastafarian elements within their music. While the artists profess the same faith, they perform this faith in different ways.
Defining faith as the act of believing in which multiple layers of belief constitutive of our larger views—theological, social, and cultural—are collapsed and melded together, Rommen proposes to analyze the artists' divergent expressions of faith as an outgrowth of their embodied and predominantly unvoiced beliefs, thereby minimizing the artificial compartmentalization of individual and community life that can occur through strict analysis of cultural, racial, and political discourse. Ultimately, Rommen hopes to develop belief as a cross-cutting and central theoretical tool capable of enriching more archetypal paradigms within cultural studies (e.g., hybridity, globalization, creolization, syncretism), thereby nuancing and dramatically expanding current modes of inquiry in the humanities.