Lately, I’ve been thinking a little bit about intellectualism and how it might relate to my discussion here.

Back in high school, I was voted “Most Intellectual” in the senior class. Being very shy and coming from a pretty large public high school, I am not exactly sure how that might have happened. What that superlative entailed was being introduced to everyone in the cafeteria one day, taking a picture for the yearbook at a historic mansion (and getting to skip classes for the morning!), and being presented at prom. (Which was mortifying, actually! Miss “Best Looking” had a date, so did Miss “Most Athletic.” Miss “Most Intellectual” didn’t!)

I wouldn’t consider myself “an intellectual” any longer, but I enjoy intelligent discussion and pondering the ideas of those who truly deserve the distinction. I was thinking about this the other day and began to wonder who might be some of the intellectuals whose thinking had most directly impacted my own.

I determined H.D. Thoreau and Wendell Berry would be first on my list, though a strange brand of outdoorsy, hands-in-the-earth intellectualism they bring to the table. Of the more theological variety would be Thomas Merton. No women on my list. I have read Kathleen Norris and Anne Lamott and others, but had not truly latched onto their ideas with quite the same fervor.

This got me thinking further and wondering who would be considered the most influential women “thinkers” of our day. I pondered for a moment and I am rather embarrassed to say I couldn’t put my finger on a single one. So, I turned to (what else would I turn to in a moment like this?)…Google.

I found this list – titled “20 Most Influential Women Intellectuals.” (This list includes only those influential thinkers who are still living.) Scanning the list, I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw Barbara Ehrenreich listed and realized I had read at least one of her books! (Nickel and Dimed, which I think I am going to discuss a bit more in tomorrow’s post.) I jotted down a few names that interested me: Susan Faludi, Susan Greenfield, Germain Greer, Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

From there, I found another list imbedded in an interesting article from Foreign Policy magazine debating blogger Charlotte Allen’s lament over the lack of female public intellectuals.

I want to explore the work of these women further and think a little more about intellectualism – its usefulness and relevance in society and contributions women have made.

Which intellectuals have influenced you? Would you consider the role of “the intellectual” an important role in society?