What Makes a “Muslim Intellectual”? On the Pros and Cons of a Category

  • Jan-Peter Hartung SOAS, University of London
Keywords: Analytical Category, Object Concept, ʿulamāʾ, mufakkirūn, Nineteenth Century, Structural Change, Ideology


At its core, this essay contains a substantiated plea for bringing about conceptual clarity to the notion of "Muslim intellectual", which the frequent and highly ideologically charged public usage of this term seems to distort. In search for a sound analytical concept of "intellectual" first, relevant sociological and philosophical deliberations are highlighted, indicating that both of their notions differ to such an extent that their applicability to academic pursuit must be doubted. Yet, by discussing some considerations by a Study of Islam open to the approaches of the Social Sciences a possible framework for an analytically meaningful concept of "Muslim intellectual" is presented. At the same time, however, arguments are presented for why those contemporary Muslim thinkers who are usually credited with being "Muslim intellectuals" would hardly fit the analytical criteria for such label.

Author Biography

Jan-Peter Hartung, SOAS, University of London

MA (Leipzig), PhD (Erfurt), Habil (Bonn), is currently Senior Lecturer in the Study of Islam at the Department for the Study of Religions, SOAS, University of London. His research focuses on Muslim intellectual history from Early Modernity, with a regional emphasis on South Asia and the wider Persianate world.

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