College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

Full Title of Thesis or Dissertation

Understanding Boko Haram

Graduation Date


Document Type


Department/Program Conferring Degree

International Studies


Boko Haram, insurgency, Nigeria, Islamic extremism, state failure


There are two lenses through which Boko Haram is commonly viewed. The first focuses on ideas of Islamic extremism and religious violence, explaining the insurgency as an outgrowth of an ideology. The second uses theories of relative deprivation and frustration-aggression to find motivation in the harsh socioeconomic reality faced by the majority of people in northern Nigeria. This project demonstrates that both of these lenses are problematic and allow for only a partial understanding of Boko Haram. Instead, this project analyzes all of the factors that have allowed and facilitated Boko Haram's transition from a localized, grassroots organization into the wide-ranging, violent insurgency it is today. This includes discussion of the development of multiscalar divisions and contradictions among Nigerian Muslims from the introduction of Islam into the region, through colonial rule, and up to the present day. The examination of these ideological and religious factors is combined with an analysis of the economic geography, political manipulation of religion, poverty and inequality, and failures of the Nigerian state. In doing so, this project demonstrates that no single factor, variable, or theory can be used independently. The full context -- religious, historical, political, and socioeconomic -- of the crisis must be examined in order to fully understand Boko Haram.