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  • Faith in Flux: Pentecostalism and mobility in rural Mozambique by Devaka Premawardhana
  • Karen Lauterbach
Devaka Premawardhana, Faith in Flux: Pentecostalism and mobility in rural Mozambique. Philadelphia PA: University of Pennsylvania Press (hb US$49.95 – 978 0 8122 4998 9). 2018, 221 pp.

What difference does Pentecostalism make and what kind of change does it bring about? These are two of the more prevalent questions in recent scholarship on Pentecostal Christianity in Africa and elsewhere. In Faith in Flux – a book about mobility and Pentecostalism in rural Mozambique – Premawardhana poses a different question. He asks what change is for people who live in the Maúa district in northern Mozambique and how they experience it. Based on this, and on Makhuwa ontology more broadly, he discusses how Pentecostalism is received and how joining a Pentecostal church is part of a long history of continuous movement and rupture. By doing so, Premawardhana does not presume that Pentecostalism brings about change or that it mirrors modernity, neoliberalism or individualization. Pentecostalism is instead analysed as part of a lifeworld in which continuity is change. This is a crucial insight, because it destabilizes the premise that it is outside forces that catapult change and the idea that tradition in itself is radically opposed to change. In Faith in Flux, and among the Makhuwa, continuity is change and ‘radical change [is] a cross-cultural constant’ (p. 25). It is part of life to be in movement, to convert, to cross and to transgress, not once but many times, and this mirrors how people engage with Pentecostalism. Writing about an area where Pentecostalism is not exploding and where the movement seems fragile, Premawardhana seeks to understand the ways in which people enter and leave Pentecostalism, and how this is ontologically possible.

Over six chapters, Premawardhana takes us through a fascinating account of mobility and conversion in the Maúa district in northern Mozambique. Through a carefully narrated ethnography, he shows how movement, circularity and border crossings are central in both a physical and an existential sense. This is reflected in the three overall themes that organize the book: to move, to leave and to enter, and to be with. Throughout the first two chapters, we learn how central mobility is in the lives of the Makhuwa. Mobility as an ontological and existential issue is linked to the tales of origin of the Makhuwa and the decentralized nature of their social organization, as well as to the political history of Mozambique, including projects of state making and sedentarization. These projects aim at fixing and stabilizing people, just as Pentecostal ideology seeks to convert people into a new and fixed way of being. Both of these outside (and elite) forces are adapted and resisted by the Makhuwa in ways that reflect their understanding of the world as a world of movement, circularity and border crossing. Chapters 3 and 4 are about the making of boundaries and the crossing of borders. Through an analysis of initiation rites, Premawardhana makes the [End Page 989] point that entering adulthood is about getting to know bounded entities, rather than moving from one state to another to remain there. Premawardhana makes a useful distinction here between what religious conversion or rituals are meant to produce (categories and stability) and that which is experienced and lived by people. The point is – and this is a critique of theories of hybridity and syncretism – that boundaries and bounded entities exist, but that it is possible to move between them. This leads Premawardhana to invoke the idea of polyontological mobility, by which he wants to show that plurality is part of the Makhuwa way of seeing the world, but also that a mobile people ‘bring a facility of transgression’ that allows people not to blend but to move from one religious setting to another (p. 100). The book further discusses female religiosity and the observation that women are more likely to convert than men are. Premawardhana argues that female conversion is not so much about male domination as it is about ‘particular feminine, which is to say Makhuwa, capacities: to make moves, to cross borders and, thereby, to be with’ (p. 137). In conclusion, the...


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pp. 989-990
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