Rhodes>Anthropology>Staff>Dr Penelope Bernard

    Dr Penelope Bernard



Penny completed her undergraduate degree in nursing and anthropology at the University of Natal, and then went on to obtain her honours and PhD in anthropology at Rhodes. Her PhD research was a comparative study of the beliefs in the water divinities across southern Africa, their role in the training of diviner-healers, and their connection to issues of fertility and morality, African indigenous churches (e.g. Zulu Zionism), as well as San rock art. Her primary interests are in the fields of African religion, healing and the environment (especially relating to sacred natural sites), dreaming and the interconnection between these.



B Soc Sc (Nursing) - University of Natal (KwaZulu-Natal)

B Soc Sc (Hons) Anthropology – Rhodes University

PhD Anthropology - Rhodes University

Contact Details

Tel:  +27 (0)46 6037413

Email: p.bernard@ru.ac.za

Research Interests

Medical anthropology; environmental anthropology; religion and spirituality; anthropology of extraordinary experience, dreams, and healing; landscapes and sacred natural sites; indigenous peoples and indigenous knowledge.


  • Traditional healing in southern Africa
  • The anthropology of extraordinary experience, especially relating to dreams.
  • Dreams and agency in Nguni healing
  • The cultural significance of water and snake/mermaid divinities for traditional healers in southern Africa
  • The influence of modernity and change on traditional healers in southern Africa
  • Changing kinship patterns and implications for healer training.
  • Cultural landscapes, indigenous knowledge and sacred natural sites in southern Africa: problems of access, appropriation and/or damage by development agendas
  • Professionalization of traditional healers and issues related to collaboration and  integration with biomedicine
  • Indigenous knowledge, bioprospecting/biopiracy and  intellectual property

Last Modified: Thu, 28 Jul 2022 11:09:28 SAST