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.