University of Florida Homepage

Terje Ostebo

Center for African Studies and Department of Religion


Phone: 352.392.2175

Office location: 490 Grinter Hall/008 Anderson Hall

Focus areas: Religion, Islam, Salafism, religion and politics, ethnicity and ethnic conflicts, Ethiopia / Horn of Africa, East Africa

Terje Østebø holds a joint appointment in the Department of Religion and the Center for African Studies. He was the founding director of the Center for Global Islamic Studies, serving between 2014 and 2017. He is also a senior researcher (part-time) at the International Law and Policy Institute, an independent, private research institute in Oslo, Norway. He received his Ph.D. in the History of Religions from Stockholm University. Before joining the faculty of the University of Florida, he was an Assistant Professor at NLA University College in Bergen, Norway.

Østebø’s research interests are Islam in contemporary Ethiopia, Islam, politics, and Islamic reformism in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa, and Salafism in Africa. He has lived in Ethiopia for 6 years and has a broad field-research experience and an extensive publication record on the abovementioned topics. He has also been involved in briefing/advising national and international policymakers on issues related to religion and politics in the Horn of Africa.

He has a broad experience with teaching, both nationally and abroad. Such teaching includes Islam in Ethiopia (both from historical and contemporary perspectives), Ethiopian history, contemporary Ethiopian society and politics, as well as religion and politics on the Horn of Africa. He also has extensive experience with teaching courses on Islam and Muslim cultures in East Africa, Christian-Muslim relations in East Africa, Christianity in contemporary Africa, as well as African Traditional Religions. The teaching has been carried out within the discipline of Religious Studies and in cross-disciplinary settings. He is also fluent in Oromo and has good knowledge of Amharic.

Selected Publications


  • Muslim Ethiopia: The Christian Legacy, Identity Politics, and Islamic Reformism (co-edited with Patrick Desplat), New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2013.
  • Localising Salafism: Religious Change among Oromo Muslims in Bale, Ethiopia. Brill: Leiden, 2012.
  • Islamism in the Horn of Africa: Assessing Ideology, Actors, and Objectives, Report no. 2, International Law and Policy Institute, 2010.
  • A History of Islam and Inter-religious Relations in Bale, Ethiopia. Stockholm: Almquist and Wiksell International, 2005.


  • “Salafism, State Politics, and the Question of ‘Extremism’ in Ethiopia”, in Comparative Islamic Studies, 8, 1, 2014.
  • “Are Religious Leaders a Magic Bullet for Social/Societal Change?  A critical look at anti-FGM interventions in Ethiopia”, (co-authored with Marit Tolo Østebø) in Africa Today, 60, 3, 2014.
  • ”Claims for Authority at the Shrine of Shaykh Hussein, Ethiopia”, in Journal of Islamic Studies, 25, 2, 2014
  • “The revenge of the Jinn: Spirits, Salafi Reform, and the Continuity in Change in Contemporary Ethiopia”, in Contemporary Islam, 8, 1, 2014
  • “Islam and State Relations in Ethiopia: From Containment to the Production of a ’Governmental Islam’”, in Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 81, 4,2013.
  • “Muslims in Ethiopia: The Christian Legacy, Identity Politics and Islamic Reformism” (co-authored with Patrick Desplat), in Muslim Ethiopia: The Christian Legacy, Identity Politics, and Islamic Reformism, New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2013.
  • “Being Young, Being Muslim in Contemporary Bale”, in Muslim Ethiopia: The Christian Legacy, Identity Politics, and Islamic Reformism, New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2013.
  • “Islamic Militancy in Africa”, Africa Security Brief no 23, Washington DC: Africa Center for Strategic Studies, 2012
  • “EPRDF’s Revolutionary Democracy and Religious Plurality: Islam and Christianity in Post-Derg Ethiopia” (co-authored with Jörg Haustein), in Journal of East African Studies, 5, 2, 2011.
  • “Islam and Politics: The EPRDF, the 2005 elections and Muslim institutions in Bale”, in Kjetil Tronvoll and Tobias Hagmann (eds.): Contested Power: Traditional Authority and Elections in Ethiopia, Leiden: Brill, 2011.
  • “Local Reformers and the Search for Change: The Emergence of Salafism in Bale, Ethiopia”, in Africa, 81, 4, 2011.
  • “Une économie salafi de la prière dans la région du Balé en Éthiopie”, in Jean-Louis Triaud and Leonardo A. Villalón, (eds.): L’économie morale et les mutations de l’islam en Afrique sub-saharienne. (Moral Economy and Transformations of Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa). Special issue of Afrique Contemporaine, 231, 3, 2009.
  • “Growth and Fragmentation: The Salafi Movement in Contemporary Bale, Ethiopia”, in Roel Meijer (ed.): Global Salafism: Islam’s New Religious Movement, New York/London: Columbia University Press/Hurst, 2009.



Salafism and ‘Super-Salafis’ in Ethiopia

The project builds on earlier research on the emergence and trajectory of the Salafi movement in Ethiopia from the late 1960s to the present – focusing on the interaction between the outside (global) and the local, and on the role of agents of change in relation to processes of religious reform. This current project explores the increasingly heterogeneous character of Salafism in Ethiopia and investigates the so-called Madkhaliyya group, or the “Super Salafis” as it is labeled locally. Drawing inspiration from the Saudi quietist scholarSheikh Rabi al-Madkhali, the group has been much devoted to maintaining religious purity, and to avoid engagement in public and political affairs. This research analyzes how this is played out in relation to the broader Muslim society, what implications it may have in a religiously plural society, and how it is affected by an increasingly constrained political environment aimed at combating what it perceives as “extremist Islam”.

Religion and Ethiopia’s Foreign Policy

This research is part of a larger project called “Analysis of Ethiopia’s Foreign Policy” that seeks to examine the determinants, substance and processes of Ethiopia’s foreign policy-making – run by the International Law and Policy Institute and funded by the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It pays particular attention to the religious aspect of Ethiopia’s foreign policy and analyzes how it has been affected by developments in the immediate and broader region. It looks how Ethiopia’s own national-religious heritage continues to play a role in determining friends and foes, and how religiously motivated state and non-state actors in the Horn of Africa has put religion on the agenda in the formulation of Ethiopia’s foreign and security policies.

Changing Identities and Inter-religious Conflicts

This research is part of a larger project called “Ethiopia: Consolidating Peace, or Emerging New Conflicts?”, run by the International Law and Policy Institute and funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The aim of the project is to investigate to what extent and how Ethiopia´s economic and development ideology – the developmental state model – enhance a consolidation of peace and sustainable development, or whether the emergence of novel conflicts is a more possible scenario. One part of this project is to investigate the increase in Christian-Muslim tensions and conflicts. It pays in particular attention to dynamics developing in the interface between the state’s secular political arrangement and religious groups gradually carving out public space. A major argument is that secularism in Ethiopia has produced separate religious public spheres and that dynamics within these spheres create a situation of competition of public space and contestations – which in turn has exacerbated inter-religious tensions and strained relations with the state.

Representations of the Muslim Brotherhood in Ethiopia

The ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood, generally labeled as Islamism, have over the last decades followed an interesting and uneven trajectory, moving away from a more exclusivist position to the accommodation of liberal democracy, human rights, and secularism. Similar discourses have been taking place in Ethiopia, seen by internal debates about the nature and future of the Ethiopian society: the nature of the secular state, inter-religious relations, religious freedom, and the role of religious values in the public. The main aim of this project is to shed light on local representations of the Muslim Brotherhood in Ethiopia – its historical trajectory and current status. It will in particular focus on the ideological dynamics, and an important aspect will be to analyze such local expressions in light of broader ideological developments taking place within the Muslim Brotherhood. The tentative assumption is that these ideas have provided a young generation of Muslims with material for the production of an assertive religious identity, in which individual spirituality and morality are pivotal, and moreover, that the ideas have provided important rationale for a Muslim “politics of recognition” in Ethiopia.

Relations of Religion and Ethnicity in the Horn of Africa

The role of religion and ethnicity in the construction of identities and in the demarcation of boundaries has been subject to broad scholarly debates. With the Oromo ethno-nationalist movement in Ethiopia as a point of departure, this project will contribute to the debate by adding new perspectives to the relationship between religion and ethnicity. It aims to provide much-needed knowledge on the Oromo ethno-nationalist movement, and will in particular pay attention to the intertwined relationship between Islam and ethnicity, and explore the reciprocal impacts the two had both in the movement’s formative period and in later developments. Moreover, it seeks to forward new perspectives on how to conceptualize the relationship between religion and ethnicity. Whereas theoretical approaches and empirical studies recognize the existence of such a relationship, there is a need for a more explicit conceptual framework on this matter. The project will especially relate this to issues such as the construction of (social) identity, the formation and trajectory of ethnonationalism as a phenomenon and to the role of such categories in inter-group conflicts.