Sociology and Anthropology

Daniel Martin Varisco

in Islamic Studies

ISBN: 9780195390155
Published online December 2009 | | DOI:
Sociology and Anthropology


Anthropology, as a formal discipline, began in the late 19th century with an emphasis on the cultures of indigenous peoples, especially in Africa, the Americas, and Asia. Before then, there were numerous travel accounts that contained ethnographic information on Muslims, most notably the continually published work of Edward Lane on his observations in Egypt and Richard Burton's surreptitious visit to Mecca. The hallmark of modern anthropology since the 1920s has been the methodology of participant observation in fieldwork, using the language of the people studied. Most of the early ethnographic studies in the Middle East focused on tribalism rather than Islam, including the influential work of E. E. Evans-Pritchard on the Sanusi order of Cyrenaica, Libya. Although ethnographic studies of Muslim peoples began to appear in the 1960s, most provided little information on the role of Islam. The majority of ethnographic studies on Muslims have been in the Middle East, North Africa, and Indonesia, but interest has increasingly focused on Muslims in Europe and America. In addition to ethnographies, anthropologists and sociologists have also written on historical aspects of Islam and the issues facing contemporary Muslims worldwide. The generally recognized foundational text for a specific anthropology of Islam is Clifford Geertz's widely read Islam Observed (see The Anthropolgical Study of Islam: Theory). The most prominent anthropologist contributing to anthropological theory in the study of Islam in the early 21st century is Talal Asad. In addition, as Muslims are now beginning to use the Internet in large numbers, ethnographers are beginning to pay attention to the impact of cyberspace on representations of Islam and on Muslim youth.

Article.  11311 words. 

Subjects: Islam

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