Alexander Thurston

Alexander Thurston is a visiting assistant professor in the African Studies program at Georgetown University. He received his PhD from Northwestern University in 2013. He has conducted field research in Nigeria, Senegal, and Morocco. In 2013-2014, he was an International Affairs Fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations.

Posts by Alexander Thurston:

Tuesday, April 11th, 2017

Salafism in Nigeria: An introduction

Salafism in NigeriaStudying Salafism is important not just for analyzing jihadist movements or clarifying twentieth-century Muslim history, but also for better understanding the role of religion in contemporary life. What claims to authenticity are religious movements making? What mechanisms sustain these claims? How do these mechanisms shape the preaching and writing of religious leaders, and the expectations and preoccupations of their audiences?

My new book, Salafism in Nigeria, explores these questions through a case study of Africa’s most populous country. The book argues that Salafism is animated by a canon of texts. This canon foregrounds the Qur’an and the reported words and deeds of the Prophet (texts known as hadith reports). At the same time, the canon gives a surprisingly prominent place to the work of twentieth-century scholars. The canon structures Salafi preaching and is a key tool that Salafis use in debates with other Muslims—and with each other.

Read the rest of Salafism in Nigeria: An introduction.
Monday, April 20th, 2015

The Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy (and what you need to read to understand it)

Graeme Wood’s “What ISIS Really Wants,” published in The Atlantic in February 2015, sparked a massive debate. The controversy concerns whether the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is Islamic or not, and especially whether ISIS accurately understands Islam’s “medieval tradition”whatever that may mean. Wood correctly argues that ISIS cannot be understood without reference to its understanding of Islam, but he also impliesdisturbingly, to manythat ISIS’s understanding of Islam is just as representative of the religion as any other view would be.

Read the rest of The Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy (and what you need to read to understand it).