The topic of misunderstood religions is very à propos. The “western world” continues to grapple with its fear of Islam, and American conservatives are trying to decide if the Mormon religion of top Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney counts as “Christian” in their estimation.
Due to circumstances out of my control, I interacted with Mormons and Muslims early in life, inspite of growing up in a tight-knit Catholic community. Familiarity averted fear, and access to information created at least a base level of understanding.
Later in life I moved to central Brooklyn, where I encountered adherents of religions I had never previously come in contact with: Hasidism and Rastafari.
Now these are some misunderstood religions. Non-Jewish New Yorkers have a lot of information-free ideas about Hasids: that they are all wealthy (and probably bankers or jewelers), that they are all perverts, that they are all Zionists, that they have no sense of humor or fun.
White college students have some very specific misconceptions about Rastafari that are well known. Generally speaking, I don’t encounter people who can express much knowledge of this movement/religion besides a vague association with Jamaica, weed, Reggae music, and dreadlocks.
There is soooo much more to these two religions that coexist nearly side-by-side in the truly unique cultural mix of Brooklyn. Where else in the world?
I had the good fortune to stumble across this extremely helpful website written by a Hasidic Jew. I highly recommend it as an introduction to Hasidism.
I haven’t yet found as good of a “101” source for Rastafari, but I did come across the Rasta Times out of Trinidad and Rastafarian.net. I’d say for basic information for complete outsiders, just refer to the Wikipedia page, which goes quite in depth.
Annnnd here is what can happen when members of these two religions meet.
And here’s one more article about the unique cultural combinations that can happen around here.