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Devaka Premawardhana Publishes New Book

Colorado College Assistant Professor of Religion Devaka Premawardhana has published a new book, “Faith in Flux: Pentecostalism and Mobility in Rural Mozambique.”

Premawardhana, who holds an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in religion and anthropology from Harvard University, arrived in Africa to study the much reported “explosion” of Pentecostalism, the continent's fastest growing form of Christianity and one of the world's fastest growing religious movements. Yet Premawardhana, who conducted nearly two years of ethnographic fieldwork among the Makhuwa-speaking people of Mozambique, found no evidence of this.

His research explores the complexities of Christian identity and practice in a part of the world where indigenous traditions remain vibrant and influential, even in the lives of converts. It suggests that much can be gained by including such places in the story of global Christianity, by shifting attention from the well-known places where Pentecostal churches flourish to the unfamiliar places where they fail.

In “Faith in Flux,” published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, Premawardhana documents the ambivalence with which Pentecostalism has been received by the Makhuwa, an indigenous and historically mobile people of northern Mozambique. The Makhuwa are not averse to the newly arrived churches — many relate to them powerfully. Few, however, remain in them permanently. Premawardhana notes that Pentecostalism has not firmly taken root because it is seen as one potential path among many — a pragmatic and pluralistic outlook befitting a people accustomed to life on the move.

Although this phenomenon parallels other historical developments, from responses to colonial and postcolonial intrusions to patterns of circular migration between rural villages and rising cities, Premawardhana primarily attributes the religious fluidity he observed to an underlying existential mobility, an experimental disposition cultivated by the Makhuwa in their pre-Pentecostal pasts and carried by them into their post-Pentecostal futures.

The book aims not to downplay the influence of global forces on local worlds, but to recognize that such forces, “explosive” though they may be, never succeed in capturing the everyday intricacies of actual lives.

Premawardhana was named a 2017 Emerging Scholar by Diverse: Issues In Higher Education magazine. Each year the magazine recognizes 12 minority scholars throughout the nation whose research and scholarship is cutting edge. Says Jamal Eric Watson, the magazine’s executive editor, “We were impressed with Devaka Premawardhana’s work and we are pleased that we were able to train a spotlight on his trajectory.  We look forward to following his career and research.”