João Vasconcelos is a research fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon, where he obtained his doctoral degree in Social and Cultural Anthropology in 2007. He had previously received a B.A. (licenciatura, four-year degree) in Social Anthropology from the University Institute of Lisbon (ISCTE) in 1990, and a M.Phil. in Social Sciences from the ICS-UL in 1998. Between 1995 and 1998 he was an assistant lecturer at the Department of Anthropology, University of Coimbra.
From 1990 to 1994, he carried out research on Catholic pilgrimages in Portugal, addressing the social, political and ecclesiastical processes that shaped them over time. As a result of this project, he authored the two-volume book Romarias: Um Inventário dos Santuários de Portugal (1996, 1998), among other published works.
Between 1996 and 1999 he conducted research in the Alto Minho region, Northwest Portugal, studying processes of patrimonialization and folklorization of peasant culture in the 20th century, and how they were first fashioned by prominent artists and writers imbued with a nationalist-regionalist fervour, conducted thereafter by regional elites, and in the long run carried on by the local population. This research resulted in his M.Phil. thesis Usos do passado na Serra de Arga: tradição e objectificação da cultura local (1998) and a number of publications.
From 2000 onwards his research has focused on Cape Verde. He has conducted long-term fieldwork on the island of São Vicente, continued until now with short visits. The main subject of his doctoral investigation was the social implantation of Christian Rationalism in the archipelago. Brought from Brazil in 1911, Christian Rationalism is a spiritualist doctrine initiated in 1910 by Luís de Matos, a Portuguese businessman established in the city of Santos. In São Vicente and other Cape Verdean windward islands Christian Rationalist centres are more attended than any other church, with the exception of Catholic temples. The popularity of this doctrine in São Vicente and its creolization in local society were the main objects of his inquiry. This research resulted in his Ph.D. thesis Espíritos atlânticos: um espiritismo luso-brasileiro em Cabo Verde (2007), in articles and book chapters, and more recently in the book Histórias do Racionalismo Cristão em São Vicente, de 1911 a 1940 (1st edition 2011; 2nd revised edition 2012).
He is currently carrying on historical research on the beginnings of Christian Rationalism in Brazil and its embedment within the Portuguese community of Rio de Janeiro for most of the 20th century. He is also developing exploratory ethnographic research on the place of men within family life in Cape Verde and the Cape Verdean diaspora in Lisbon.