Sources for a Prehistory of Ethnology in the Islamic World: Ibn Battuta’s Travels through Asia and Africa (1325-1354)


  • Marko Pišev Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade



Ibn Battuta, Rihla, ethnography, Islam


Within the discipline, the historical roots of ethnology and anthropology are most often traced through European antiquity, the enlightenment and the modern intellectual traditions of the West. Even though this view is somewhat justified (in that it follows a clear continuity in the development and scientification of the discipline in western universities), it, perhaps unintentionally, leaves out the intellectual efforts of Islamic thinkers and travelers, who had also, in their time, encountered various forms of “cultural otherness” and strived to represent and interpret them to their own readers. This paper focuses on Ibn Battuta’s decades of travel through Muslim lands – and beyond – and is envisioned as a theoretical experiment the purpose of which isilluminating the significance of Ibn Battuta’s writings, not only for the historical but also for the contemporary aspects of our discipline.It is a reflection on the ethnographic aspect of Ibn Battuta’s writings about the people and cultures which he encountered in his travels.


Download data is not yet available.


Adams, William Y. (1969). Ethnohistory and Islamic Tradition in Africa. Ethnohistory 16 (4): 277-288.

Akbar, S. Ahmed. 1984. Al-Beruni: The First Anthropologist. RAIN 60: 9-10.

Beckingham, C. F.. 1978. In search of Ibn Battuta. Asian Affairs 8: 263-277.

Berman, Nina. 2003. Questions of Context: Ibn Battuta and E. W. Bovill on Africa. Research in African Literatures 34 (2): 199-205.

Bianchi, Robert R. 2004. Introduction to Guests of God. Pilgrimage and Politics in the Islamic World, xiii-xvi. Oxford: Oxford UP.

Bošković, Aleksandar (ed.) 2008. Other People's Anthrpologies: Ethnographic Practice on the Margins. New York: Berghahn Books.

Bošković, Aleksandar. 2010. Kratak uvod u antropologiju. Zagreb: Naklada Jesenjski i Turk.

Brown, Michael F. 2008. Cultural Relativism 2.0. Current Anthropology 49 (3): 363-383.

Douglas, Susan L. i Ross E. Dunn. 2003. Interpreting Islam in American Schools. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 588: 52-72.

Dunn, Ross E. 2012. The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveller of the 14th Century. Berkley: University of California Press.

Eickelman, Dale F. i James Piscatori. 1990. Muslim Travellers : Pilgrimage, Migration, and the Religious Imagination. Berkley: University of California Press.

Eriksen, Thomas Hylland i Finn Sivert Nielsen. 2001. A History of Anthropology. London: Pluto Press.

Euben, Roxanne L. 2006. Jouneys to the Other Shore: Muslim and Western Travelers in Search of Knowledge. Prenceton and Oxford: Princeton UP.

Fernandez, James W. 1990. Tolerance in a Repugnant World and Other Dilemmas in the Cultural Relativism of Melville J.Herskovits. Ethos 18 (2): 140-164.

Fiebach, Joachim. 1999. Dimensions of Theatricality in Africa. Research in African Literatures 30 (4): 186-201.

Fish, Jefferson M. 2005. Divided Loyalties and the Responsibility of Social Scientists. The Independent Review 9 (3): 375-387.

Gibb, H. A. R. 2001. Introduction to Ibn Battuta: Travels in Asia and Africa (1325-1354). New Delhi: Manohar.

Halstead, J. Mark. 2004. An Islamic Concept of Education. Comparative Education 40 (4): 517-529.

Herskovits, Melville J. 1951. Tender-and Tough-Minded Anthropology and the Study of Values in Culture. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 7 (1): 22-31.

Ibn Battuta. 2001. Travels in Asia and Africa 1325-1354. New Delhi: Manohar.

Kovačević, Ivan. 2001. Istorija srpske etnologije I. Prosvetiteljstvo. Beograd: Srpski genealoški centar.

Levcion, Nehemaja. 2002. „Islam u Africi do 1800. Trgovci poglavice i sveci“. U: Oksfordska istorija islama, ur. Džon Espozito, 503-538. Beograd: Clio.

Liebersohn, Harry. 2008. „Anthropology Before Anthropology“. In: A New History of Anthropology, ed. Henrika Kuklick, 17-33. Malden: Blakwell Publishing.

Morgan, D. O. 2001. Ibn Battūta and the Mongols. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland 11: 1-11.

Netton, Ian Richard. 1991. Basic Structures and Signs of Alienation in the "Rihla" of Ibn Jubayr. Journal of Arabic Literature 22 (1): 21-37.

Oppenheim, Robert. 2005. „Consistencies and Contradictions: Anthropological Anti-Imperialism and Frederick Starr’s Letter to Baron Ishii“. In: Histories of Anthropology Annual. Volume I, ed. Regna Darnell and Frederic W. Gleach, 1-27. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press.

Owusu, Maxwell. 1978. Ethnography of Africa: The Usefulness of the Useless. American Anthropologist, New Series 80 (2): 310-334.

Rodriguez-Manas, Francisco. 1996. Agriculture, Sūfism and the State in Tenth/Sixteenth-Century Morocco. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 59 (3): 450-471.

Saul, Mahir. 2006. Islam and West African Anthropology. Africa Today 53 (1): 3-33.

Waines, David. 2010. The Odyssey of Ibn Battuta. Uncommon Tales of a Medieval Adventurer. London: I. B. Tauris.




How to Cite

Pišev, Marko. 2013. “Sources for a Prehistory of Ethnology in the Islamic World: Ibn Battuta’s Travels through Asia and Africa (1325-1354)”. Etnoantropološki Problemi / Issues in Ethnology and Anthropology 8 (4):1025-46.

Most read articles by the same author(s)

1 2 > >>