Bradley W. Bateman, President of Randolph College, Keynesian scholar, and frequent visitor to Lawrence, has a piece up at The Atlantic Monthly today on the surprising religious past of American economics.
A big part of the story is the leadership of Richard T. Ely, an extremely controversial figure who spent more than thirty years of his career at the University of Wisconsin directing the School of Economics, Political Science, and History.
Of course, the religious roots were not long-lived, as President Bateman notes:
It is, of course, hard to recognize this earlier type of economist in today’s profession. Like the university, the discipline of economics was secularized after 1920. Around this time, the discipline of philosophy came to be dominated by logical positivism—essentially, the idea that the scientific method is the only way to arrive at true, factual knowledge—and this school of thought greatly influenced American economists as the landscape of their own discipline was changing. They developed the idea that their new analytical focus was value-free—a premise still taught in most introductory economic textbooks.
But, of course, is not, which is important to recognize.
Bateman doesn’t really comment on whether the Wisconsonian influence has been diminished. You can find The Atlantic piece here.
For more thorough treatment, check out (then) Professor Bateman in the Journal of Economic Perspectives.