What makes a Muslim intellectual? On the pro's and con's of a category

Dr. Jan-Peter Hartung

Ever since the emergence of sociology as academic discipline proper, the category “intellectual” has played a most important role, leading even to the development of a specific subject area within sociology. Most of the studies devoted to this problem, however, derive the empirical material for the substantiation of their attempts to create a widely applicable ideal type “intellectual” almost exclusively from Western cultural contexts, usually heavily impacted by various preconceptions derived from Christianity. Studies that try to make sense of this category for the Muslim context, in turn, are still rather scarce, a fact that makes the application of “intellectual” to this context at least worthy of discussion. Therefore, this paper aims at assessing the possibilities and eventual limitations of the “Muslim intellectual” as an analytical category that will help to better define this object of inquiry against other rather similar ones within the Muslim cultural context. It will then go on and raise the question whether various attribution of “intellectual”, e.g. “Muslim intellectual” and “public intellectual” are significant contributions in order to better understand certain phenomena, or whether they are rather misleading.