Chapter

Theorizing from Within: Ibn Khaldun and the Understanding of Arab Political Culture

in Varieties of Muslim Experience

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2008 | ISBN: 9780226726168
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226726182 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226726182.003.0010
Theorizing from Within: Ibn Khaldun and the Understanding of Arab Political Culture

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From the eighteenth century onward, Western scholars have characterized the Arab historian Ibn Khaldun as one of the truly great social theorists—a systematizer of deep historical trends, one of the first “social scientists.” Ibn Khaldun is best known for his grand theory of state formation. In his own life—as in the lives of his cultural successors—Ibn Khaldun placed great emphasis on knowing the customs and practices of other groups one might encounter. But for him and contemporary Arabs there was and is a clear emphasis as well on understanding human behavior through the specific contexts and circumstances in which such actions are embedded. Perhaps an understanding of Arab political culture in the present may nonetheless inform our understanding of Ibn Khaldun's way of theorizing more than 600 years ago. Reading between the lines of Ibn Khaldun—for his culture, his type of theorizing, his view of humanity—can enrich our view of history and the social ideas of our Arab contemporaries.

Keywords: Ibn Khaldun; social scientists; human behavior; Arabs; political culture; state formation; history; humanity

Chapter.  4223 words. 

Subjects: Anthropology

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