Premawardhana, “Conversion and Convertibility”

Premawardhana, Devaka. 2015. “Conversion and Convertibility in Northern Mozambique.” In What is Existential Anthropology?, eds. Michael Jackson and Albert Piette. New York: Berghahn Books.

Abstract: Recent scholarship on Pentecostalism in the global South gives the impression of a singular trajectory of inexorable growth. In this chapter, I offer a counternarrative, not in denial of the widely reported statistical evidence but in affirmation of the ambivalence with which individuals behind the statistics experience novelty. In so doing, I bring existential insights to bear on such themes as rupture and discontinuity, which already, but inadequately, suffuse studies of Pentecostal conversion. Ethnographic evidence from northern Mozambique suggests that the “backsliding into heathenism” Pentecostal leaders decry is experienced locally as a capacity, a capacity for mobility and mutability, for shifting places and altering identities. The refusal of ordinary men and women to settle has long frustrated government administrators and religious reformers alike. It threatens to bewilder scholars as well unless we learn to think beyond the classificatory schemes outsiders so readily deploy and insiders so assiduously avoid.

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