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Hospitable Hosts, Educated Elites: Relativism vs. Absolutism in the writings of Alberuni and Ibn Battuta

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  1. Introduction
  2. Relativism and the sciences of numbers and measurement
  3. Relativism when discussing the 'educated' Hindu
  4. Ibn Battuta's relativism: The level of personal security
  5. No special claim to objectivity
  6. Conclusion
  7. Works cited

In exploring nations and cultures outside of their own, Alberuni and Ibn Battuta encountered ideologies, customs, and practices that stood in opposition to the beliefs and ways of life they personally upheld. Faced with foreign behavior and thought, the authors found themselves in a position to judge, to criticize or compliment the outside culture. Both authors incorporated cultural relativism (the doctrine that all judgment is relative, and that one must look at a culture from an insider's point of view to judge it) in some instances of their texts, and adopt culturally absolutist standpoints (judgment based on an absolute, universal scale without considering different cultural circumstances) in others. Though neither is clearly absolutist or relativist, the authors have separate reasons for reserving judgment.

[...] Whatever the case, Ibn Battuta clearly sees himself as, foremost, a traveler and this is apparently also the image others held of him. Though their texts were neither wholly absolutist nor wholly relativist, both Ibn Battuta and Alberuni adopted the two standpoints at particular instances in their works for distinct reasons. Alberuni's scholarship determines his relativism toward educated classes and toward qualitative sciences, while Ibn Battuta's status as traveler influenced his relativism toward hospitable hosts and toward protectors in times of danger. These patterns are not surprising; complex social issues require cultural relativism in some [...]


[...] Very distinct from Alberuni's ideology and patterns of thought are those of Ibn Battuta; indeed, his instances of relativism and absolutism follow altogether dissimilar schemas. As previously stated, he shows a greater degree of absolutism when faced with inhospitable hosts than with their hospitable counterparts. During one voyage, he relates that ?These Turks do not know the practice of giving hospitable lodging to the visitor or of supplying him with money for his needs. What they do is to send him sheep and horses for slaughtering and skins of qumizz, and this is their honourable treatment? (Ibn Battuta 484). [...]

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