Louise Bethlehem has described herself as a “long-distance South African” in the South African poet and writer Denis Hirson’s phrase. She graduated with a B.A. (magna cum laude) from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in 1984, as the top graduate in the Faculty of Arts. She then proceeded to obtain her M.A. (summa cum laude) and Ph.D. (with distinction) from The Program in Comparative Literature and Poetics at Tel Aviv University. She held a Lady Davis Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1998-1999) as well as a subsequent Golda Meir Fellowship (2002-2003).
Bethlehem’s research interests straddle South African literature, South African literary and cultural history, the history of expressive culture in the anti-apartheid struggle, postcolonial theory, urban studies and visual culture. Her current work is increasingly oriented to the Anthropocene and questions of climate emergency in the global South. She has supervised graduate students working on Palestinian urban history including Noam Leshem, author of the Life after Ruin: The Struggles over Israel's Depopulated Arab Spaces (Cambridge UP 2016), and has translated the work of dissident Israeli intellectuals into English, notably Ariella Azoulay’s Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photography (2009). Bethlehem is a founding member of the Israeli Association for African Studies, and has served on the Academic Committee of the Harry S. Truman Institute for The Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
In South Africa, Bethlehem maintains an ongoing association with the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER) at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg where she is also an Honorary Research Affiliate in the Department of African literature at the School of Literature, Language and Media. She participated in the Johannesburg Workshop in Criticism and Theory in 2010, speaking in a studio session and contributing a blog entry. Bethlehem has also been featured in the online journal, The Johannesburg Salon, alongside leading postcolonial scholars.
Bethlehem serves on the international advisory boards of a range of journals including African Identities, African Studies, Critical Arts: A Journal of South-North Cultural and Media Studies, English in Africa, English Studies in Africa, Jewish Historical Studies: A Journal of English-Speaking Jewry, Journal of Postcolonial Writing, Mafte’akh: Lexical Review of Political Thought, Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies, and Scrutiny2: Issues in English Studies in Southern Africa.