A few years back, “New Atheist” authors Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett helped to publicize a movement to rechristen atheists as “Brights” (see our feature article on influential atheists here).
This was no doubt mainly because the word “atheist” still has a harsh and aggressive ring in the ears of most ordinary people.
But the corollary—that people of faith are “Dims”—was surely an added benefit, in the minds of the New Atheist publicity men.
Is it really true that most intelligent and well-informed people are atheists, while people of faith tend to be unschooled and credulous?
Far from it.
Unfortunately, in the rancorous debates in this country over the role of religion in our public life, all too often it is simply assumed—by both sides—that religious faith is in conflict with reason (and intelligence). The unspoken assumption is that religion relies exclusively on faith, while science alone is supported by reason.
This idea is utterly mistaken, but because it mostly goes unchallenged, it reinforces the stereotype that atheists are somehow smarter than believers.
One way to combat the erroneous assumption that faith conflicts with reason is by giving greater visibility to living, breathing believers who are also highly intelligent. That is what we are endeavoring to do with this list of “The 50 Smartest People of Faith.”
The qualifications for inclusion on our list are twofold:
(1) Intellectual brilliance, evidenced by a very high level of achievement, whether in the natural sciences, the social sciences, the humanities, literature, the fine arts, or public service; and
(2) Religious faith, evidenced either through explicit personal witness or through publicly professed respect for religion.
By “religious faith,” we mean religion in the monotheistic, or Abrahamic, tradition—which we happen to know best. We do not doubt that a similar list of brilliant and devout Hindus, Buddhists, Daoists, Confucianists, Shintoists, and others could easily be drawn up, and we hope it will be, by those qualified to do so.
Most of the individuals on our list have given explicit public witness to their religious faith. However, in a few cases we infer a faith that appears to be implicit in a person’s writings. Needless to say, we do not pretend to see into people’s hearts. Unbeknownst to us, some individuals may have private reservations. But all have declared their deeply held respect for religious faith through their works and/or their public pronouncements.
This list, then, includes living men and women who are both people of faith and people of exceptional intellectual brilliance and professional accomplishment. It is presented in alphabetical order.
Anyone who is interested in learning more about how reason supports religious faith could hardly do better than delve into their scholarship or other creative achievements, by following the links we provide.
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Khaled Abou El Fadl (b. 1963)
Abou El Fadl was born in Kuwait. He was trained in traditional Islamic jurisprudence in Kuwait and in Egypt, and also holds a JD from University of Pennsylvania Law School, and a PhD in Islamic law from Princeton University. He is currently Distinguished Professor of Law at UCLA law school, as well as Chair of the Islamic Studies Program at UCLA. Abou El Fadl is the author of many books on Islamic law and politics, several of which have been widely translated, as well as scores of articles in academic journals. His research focuses on the theme of beauty as a core moral value of Islam, as well as on universal themes of humanity, morality, human rights, justice, and mercy. He has publicly opposed the Saudi-based Wahhabi movement, and is a vocal supporter of democracy, pluralism, and women’s rights in Islamic countries. A sometime consultant for the US government, Abou El Fadl has received recognition from several universities and international governmental bodies, including the University of Oslo’s Human Rights Award. He has been called one of the world’s most influential Arabs.
Books: Rebellion and Violence in Islamic Law (Cambridge UP, 2001); And God Knows the Soldiers: The Authoritative and Authoritarian in Islamic Discourses (University Press of America, 2001); Conference of the Books: The Search for Beauty in Islam (University Press of America, 2001; reprinted, Rowman & Littlefield, 2005); The Place of Tolerance in Islam, co-author (Beacon Press, 2002); Speaking in God’s Name: Islamic Law, Authority, and Women (OneWorld, 2001); Islam and the Challenge of Democracy, co-author (Princeton UP, 2004); The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists (HarperOne, 2005)