The Prospect/FP Top 20 Public Intellectuals, 2008

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

Who are the world's leading public intellectuals?


Foreign Policy and Britain's Prospect magazine selected their top 100, and invited readers to vote for their top twenty. Here was their selection criteria.

Rankings are an inherently dangerous business. Whether offering a hierarchy of countries, cities, or colleges, any such list -- at least any such list worth compiling -- is likely to generate a fair amount of debate. In the last issue, when we asked readers to vote for their picks of the world's top public intellectuals, we imagined many people would want to make their opinions known. But no one expected the avalanche of voters who came forward. During nearly four weeks of voting, more than 500,000 people came to to cast ballots.

No one spread the word as effectively as the man who tops the list. In early May, the Top 100 list was mentioned on the front page of Zaman, a Turkish daily newspaper closely aligned with Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. Within hours, votes in his favor began to pour in. His supporters -- typically educated, upwardly mobile Muslims -- were eager to cast ballots not only for their champion but for other Muslims in the Top 100. Thanks to this groundswell, the top 10 public intellectuals in this year's reader poll are all Muslim. The ideas for which they are known, particularly concerning Islam, differ significantly. It's clear that, in this case, identity politics carried the day.

We tried to avoid the "box ticking" problem of having x Chinese, y economists and z under-50s. But we have also tried to give due weight to the important thinkers in all the main intellectual disciplines and centers of population. We also tried to ensure that all names on the list are influential in at least a few countries in their region, if not the entire globe.

Prospect and Foreign Policy

The list appeared on June 16, 2008. More than 500,000 people voted in this poll. See results below.

The Prospect/FP Top 20 Public Intellectuals

Rank Name Occupation(s) Country
1. Fethullah Gülen Religious leader Turkey
2. Muhammad Yunus Microfinancier, activist Bangladesh
3. Yusuf al-Qaradawi Cleric Egypt/Qatar
4. Orhan Pamuk Novelist Turkey
5. Aitzaz Ahsan Lawyer, politician Pakistan
6. Amr Khaled Muslim televangelist Egypt
7. Abdolkarim Soroush Religious theorist Iran
8. Tariq Ramadan Philosopher, scholar of Islam Switzerland
9. Mahmood Mamdani Cultural anthropologist Uganda
10. Shirin Ebadi Lawyer, human rights activist Iran
11. Noam Chomsky Linguist, author, activist United States
12. Al Gore Climate change activist, politician United States
13. Bernard Lewis Historian Britain/United States
14. Umberto Eco Medievalist, semiologist, novelist Italy
15. Ayaan Hirsi Ali Activist, politician Somalia/Netherlands
16. Amartya Sen Development economist India
17. Fareed Zakaria Journalist, author United States
18. Garry Kasparov Democracy activist, chess grandmaster Russia
19. Richard Dawkins Biologist, author Britain
20. Mario Vargas Llosa Novelist, politician Peru
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