IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

The Impact of Liberal Religion on Richard Ely's Economic Methodology


  • Donald E. Frey


Richard T. Ely's economic methodology was heavily influenced by the scholarship of nineteenth-century liberal German Protestantism. It held that religious beliefs, even scripture, were not final truths but evolving expressions of historical experience. Thus historical and empirical study of religion and its documents in their contexts was crucial. The outlook influenced other disciplines, including economics, by the time Ely obtained his doctorate in Germany. The approach was compatible with tendencies the young Ely had already evinced, and the outlook continued long into his American career. In particular, Ely consistently attacked laissez-faire economics for positing absolute economic laws rather than understanding the economy and economics as human enterprises subject to change. He advocated for empirical economic research as an antidote to the static premises of laissez-faire. As an economic reformer, Ely realized that the determinism of laissez-faire was fatal to reform and ethics; by definition, one cannot change practices dictated by unchanging laws. Even when he was not advocating specific reforms, Ely consistently taught that economic institutions and ideas are human creations, subject to change and improvement, and not manifestations of unchangeable economic laws beyond the reach of human will.

Suggested Citation

  • Donald E. Frey, 2008. "The Impact of Liberal Religion on Richard Ely's Economic Methodology," History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, vol. 40(5), pages 299-314, Supplemen.
  • Handle: RePEc:hop:hopeec:v:40:y:2008:i:5:p:299-314

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: link to full text
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    More about this item


    Richard T. Elly; protestantism;


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:hop:hopeec:v:40:y:2008:i:5:p:299-314. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Center for the History of Political Economy Webmaster). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.