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HistoryPart of Humanities

Tradition and Treatment

Healing, Belief and Healthcare in Ethiopia

As part of a collaboration between the University of Southampton and other partners to improve health care for Ethiopians afflicted by non-communicable diseases Professor Dan Levene advises on the role played by popular beliefs and traditions in shaping attitudes to health care.

A Semitist internationally recognized for his research into late Antique magic bowls, Professor Levene’s research has long focused on “incantation culture”, the relationship between healing and belief. Recent years have seen him explore the living incantation culture of Ethiopia, where scribes still produce amulets written in Ge’ez (Old Ethiopic). For medics attempting to treat non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, epilepsy and hypertension in Ethiopia, understanding of the rituals, healing sites and belief systems behind traditional medicine is essential to address poor treatment adherence—helping to explain and address the “loss” of patients who fail to attend follow-up appointments, for example.


Levene is working under the aegis of The Ethiopia NCD Alliance (THENA), a charity founded in 1988 by Professor Sir Eldryd Parry. THENA seeks to decentralize health care provision, moving it from hospitals to rural health clinics. Alongside his work advising THENA Levene has produced a series of YouTube documentary films, exploring the indigenous Twahedo Orthodox Church’s beliefs surrounding the healing properties of water as well as exploring how Ethiopians navigate between traditional and western medical practitioners.

List of all staff members in
Staff MemberPrimary Position
Dan LeveneProfessor of Semitics and the History of Religion, Ethics Officer
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