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Zekeria Ahmed Salem

Associate Professor, Director of the Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa


Research Interest(s): Islam and Muslim Politics in Africa, Islamic Thought; Islam, race and ethnicity; social movements; bureaucratization; equality and citizenship; the State in Africa

Program Area(s): Comparative Politics

Regional Specialization(s): Africa

Joint Appointment

Program of African Studies


Zekeria Ould Ahmed Salem is Associate Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University and Director of the Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa. Salem studies religion and politics with a special focus on Islam and Muslim politics in Africa in comparative perspective. Empirically focused on Mauritania, a country straddling the Arab world and Sub-Saharan Africa, Salem’s research explores in particular the interplay between inequality, Islamic knowledge and power. A first monograph explores this theme through an examination of two parallels post-colonial developments: the push against the traditional forms of inequality such as slavery and social hierarchies on the one hand and the Islamization of the Mauritanian public and political life on the other. An ongoing research project investigates how Bilad Shinqīṭ (today Islamic Republic of Mauritania) has become in a little over a century a label of excellence in Islamic knowledge and normative authority with an astonishing global reach. Set in the longue durée (19th-21th century), the project examines the outsized influence of Mauritanian Islamic scholars (‘ulama), religious texts and institutions of learning as an entry point towards examining the relationship between knowledge and power in global Islam. Other research interests and publications explore themes such as: race and politics in Muslim societies; the politics of “deradicalization” and Countering-Violent Terrorism (CVE); social movements and everyday negotiations over citizenship; biometrics and politics.



  • Prêcher dans le désert. Islam Politique et Changement Social ( Kartha, Paris, 2013). English translation forthcoming under the title: Preaching in The Desert: Political Islam and Social change in Mauritania.
  • Read reviews in the Canadian Journal of African Studies, Journal of North African Stuides, and The New York Review of Books.
  • Trajectoires d’un Etat-frontière. Espaces, évolutions politiques et transformation s sociales en Mauritanie, edited volume (Codesria, 2004).


  • Co-editor (with Ousmane Kane, Harvard Divinity School): Africa, Globalization, and the Muslim Worlds. Special Issue: Religions. 2021. 12(11), 2021.
  • "‘Hands Off My Citizenship!’ Biometrics and its Politics in Mauritania." In Identification and Citizenship in Africa. Biometrics, the Documentary State and Bureaucratic Writings of the Self. Edited by Séverine Awenengo Dalberto and Richard Banégas. London: Routledge. Pp. 203-220, 2021.
  • “Global Shinqit. Mauritania’s Islamic Knowledge tradition and the making of transnational religious authority (Nineteenth to Twenty-First Century)”. Religions 212(7), 515, 2021.
  • “The Importance of Mauritanian Scholars in Global Islam”. Middle East Report. Special Issue 298 "Maghreb from the Margins". 04/202, 2020.
  • “Rethinking the weak state paradigm in light of the war on terror: Evidence from The Islamic Republic of Mauritania” in Project on the Middle East Political Science Studies 40. Special issue “Africa and the Middle East: Beyond the Divides”. George Washington University (June 2020).
  • “Controlled Democratization, Institutional Reforms and Political (In)-stability in Mauritania” in Rahmane Idrissa and Leonardo A. Villalon (eds.). 2020.
  • Democratic Struggle, Institutional Reform and State resilience in the African Sahel (Lanham MD, Rowman & Littlefield, 2020: 27-54).
  • « Touche pas à ma nationalité » : enrôlement biométrique et controverses sur l’identification en Mauritanie”, Politique africaine, 2018/4 (n° 152) : 77 à 99.
  • “What is the concept of “radicalization” good for?”, Politique africaine, 2018/1 (No 149)- Introduction to the theme (with Roland Marchal).
  • “The politics of The Haratins Social Movement in Mauritania (1978-2014)” in Osama Abi-Mershed (ed), Social Currents in North Africa (London & New York, Hurst Publishers, January 2018).
  • “Les mutations paradoxales de l’Islamisme en Mauritanie,” Cahiers d'études africaines n°206-207 (June 2012): 635-664.
  • “The paradoxes of Islamic Radicalization in Mauritania”, in George Joffe (ed.) Islamic Activism in The Maghreb. Politics and Process (London: Routledge, 2011):179.
  • “Bare-foot activists. Transformations of The Haratines Movement in Mauritania”, in Stephen Ellis and W.M.J. van Kessel (eds.), Movers and Shakers: Social Movements in Africa (Leiden: Brill, African dynamics, vol. 8), 2009: 156-177.
  • “Islam in Mauritania Between Political Expansion and Globalization: Elites, Institutions, Knowledge, and Networks”, in Benjamin Soares and René Otayek, (eds.), Islam and Muslim Politics in Africa (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007): 27-46.
  • “Mauritania: A Saharan Frontier State”, The Journal of North African Studies, 10, Issue 3/4 (September, 2005 ): 491–506.
  • “Prêcher dans le désert: l’Univers du Cheikh Sidi Yahya et l’évolution de l’Islamisme mauritanien,” Islam et Sociétés au Sud du Sahara n.14-15 (2001-2002): 5-40.



2013-2015: Associate Senior Research Fellow (honorary appointment); Senior Fellow, Institute of Advanced Studies, Nantes, France (AY: 2012- July 2013); Senior Fellow, Institute of Advanced Studies, Paris, (Jan-June 2012); Fulbright Senior Visiting Scholar (University of Florida, AY: 2010-2011), Senior Fellow African Studies Center, Leiden, Netherlands (2008); Visiting Associate Professor (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris (2003); Visiting Research Fellow, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS, France, 2001-2002)

Research Grants:

Agence Nationale de la Recherche (France, 2016-2018), Jutta Vogel Foundation (Koln, Germany, 2012); Council for the Development of Social Sciences Research in Africa (Dakar, 2001-2004), Sahel Research group and Minerva Initiative (University of Florida, 2013), African Studies Center (Leiden, Netherlands, 2004-2007), Centre d’études d’Afrique Noire /Sciences-Po Bordeaux (France, 2009-2010), CERI-Sciences Po. (Paris, 1999-2001), Migration Policy Center/European University Institute (2009-2011), Institute for Research on Development (IRD, 2005).


Graduate Seminars:

  • Interdisciplinary African Studies Graduate Seminar (Yearly).
  • Modern Islamic Political Thought.


  • Religion and Politics in Africa.
  • Politics of Africa.