Boko Haram is one of the most well known global terrorist organizations. They have killed thousands of people and displaced millions of West Africans....

Boko Haram is one of the most well known global terrorist organizations. They have killed thousands of people and displaced millions of West Africans. While widespread journalistic reporting on the group tries to keep up with their activities, few have placed them in a rich historical context to understand how religion and politics intersect. In Boko Haram: The History of an African Jihadist Movement (Princeton University Press, 2017), Alexander Thurston, Visiting Assistant Professor at Georgetown University, traces the origins of the jihadist group through political events, networks of Islamic learning, and the personal charisma of individual religious leaders. In his previous book, Salafism in Nigeria: Islam, Preaching, and Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2017), Thurston provides background on Salafis in Nigeria that enables us to understand Boko Haram as part of a global Salafi movement.

In our conversation we discuss the Nigerian religious field, the characteristics of Salafism and its canonization, Boko Haram’s founder Muhammad Yusuf, Nigerian Muslims at the Islamic University of Medina, north/south Nigerian social and political disparities, local Salafi responses to the new leadership of Abubaker Shekau, the 2014 kidnapping of 276 girls, recent ties to ISIS, international intervention, and reflections on religious violence.


Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Nebraska Omaha. He is the author of Interpreting Islam in China: Pilgrimage, Scripture, and Language in the Han Kitab (Oxford University Press, 2017). He is currently working on a monograph entitled The Cinematic Lives of Muslims, and is the editor of the forthcoming volumes Muslims in the Movies: A Global Anthology (ILEX Foundation) and New Approaches to Islam in Film (Routledge). You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at [email protected].

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