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date: 29 November 2020

Terrorism and Religion: Boko Haramlocked

  • Dane ImermanDane ImermanDepartment of Political Science, Denison University


Despite operating as a regional terrorist organization in Nigeria, Boko Haram has gained international attention since kidnapping 276 schoolgirls in 2014. Scholarly research on the organization has since surged, but the literature is still in its formative stages in that it remains fractured and in need of greater synthesis. This assessment of the scholarly literature focuses on two of the most pressing questions concerning religion and Boko Haram and concludes by raising a third question concerning foreign influences that deserves greater scholarly attention.

First, what are the causal implications of religion for explaining Boko Haram’s genesis, evolution, and particularly its violent tactics, as opposed to alternative explanations—economic inequality and depravation, political corruption, anti-imperialism, educational disparities, etc.? Second, to what degree is Boko Haram the latest iteration of Islamist violence in Northern Nigeria versus an organization with distinctive origins requiring fresh analysis?

Neither question has been definitively answered. While religion is a clear motivation for Boko Haram, questions remain concerning whether it is a root motivation or a symptom of secular causes. Additionally, Boko Haram’s synthetic character—as a Nigerian Islamist group that is simultaneously networked with multiple transnational terrorist organizations—makes it difficult to categorize. Finally, questions concerning foreign influences over Boko Haram—both ideological and financial—have been raised but few empirically validated answers have been produced, offering fertile ground for future research.

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