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Devaka PremawardhanaWinship Distinguished Research Associate Professor of Religion

Devaka Premawardhana is an ethnographer and religious studies scholar with extensive fieldwork experience in Makhuwa-speaking communities of Mozambique in southeast Africa. His prize-winning book, Faith in Flux: Pentecostalism and Mobility in Rural Mozambique, contests the widely assumed narrative of a worldwide Pentecostal "explosion," doing so on the grounds that indigenous religions often remain vibrant and influential, even in the lives of converts.

Premawardhana’s research interests are wide-ranging. Volumes to which he has recently contributed span such themes as African religious plurality, African ecofeminism, existential human sciences, comparative philosophy of religion,  indigenous mobilities, and interreligious studies. He co-edited (with Emory colleague Don Seeman) the forthcoming volume Between Life and Thought: Existential Anthropology and the Study of Religion, which critically explores the prospects of an anthropological approach to religion grounded in experiential ethnography and existential thought.

Based on continued fieldwork in Mozambique, Premawardhana’s current book project aims to historicize and retheorize rites of passage, a classic but now largely neglected topic in Africanist anthropology. The book will address the fate of indigenous traditions and matrilineal norms, once evident even in male initiation rites of the Makhuwa, after the arrival of patriarchal religious traditions (Islam and Christianity) and modernizing political regimes (colonialism and nationalism).

Premawardhana has received numerous grants in support of his research—including from the Fulbright Program, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and the School for Advanced Research. He has been published or quoted in such media outlets as the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, and he currently sits on the editorial boards of two academic journals: the Journal of Religion in Africa, for which he also serves as book review editor, and Indigenous Religious Traditions.


  • PhD, Harvard University, 2014
  • MDiv, Harvard Divinity School, 2005
  • BA, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2002

Research and Teaching

  • African religions
  • Indigenous religions
  • Global Christianities
  • Philosophical anthropology