Original Research

Religious coping strategies and perceived causes of sickness and health in South Africa

Peet J. van Dyk, Alta C. van Dyk
Verbum et Ecclesia | Vol 36, No 1 | a1409 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v36i1.1409 | © 2015 Peet J. van Dyk, Alta C. van Dyk | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 21 January 2015 | Published: 03 November 2015

About the author(s)

Peet J. van Dyk, Department of Biblical and Ancient Studies, University of South Africa, South Africa
Alta C. van Dyk, Department of Psychology, University of South Africa, South Africa


The purpose of this survey was to explore religious coping strategies and to what extent black South Africans directly attributed their health and/or diseases to supernatural forces such as the ancestors and magic. A total of 3000 structured questionnaires were distributed to South Africans of all ethnicities, of which 575 were received back, but only those received from black participants (411) were considered for this study. The SPSS 21 statistical program was used to analyse the data. The results of the study suggest that Mbiti’s remark that health and disease in Africa are seen primarily within a religious (i.e. supernatural) framework still holds true for the black South African participants in this study. More than 80% (81.5%) of the participants attributed their health and diseases primarily to the ancestors and magic,whilst only 16.1% of the participants ascribed any importance to natural causes of diseases(e.g. germs and unprotected sex). These beliefs were especially strong amongst city or town dwellers, people of higher educational level and members of so-called ’mainline’ churches (i.e.members of non-Zionist churches).

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: The article is interdisciplinary in nature covering the following fields: religion, psychology; health studies.


Health beliefs; Magic; Ancestors; Coping strategies; Religion


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