Subject Area

Business and Management, Economics, Humanities, Philosophy, Religion, Sociology, Anthropology


Accounting is often assumed to be a neutral presentation of the facts of economic activities and actions. Its double-entry system means that it is always in balance and comports to the rigor of mathematical formulas, and it is taken to be a matter of empirical counting that lends it certainty as well. The dissertation argues that this description of accounting is inadequate. Accounting is better seen as a political tool and technology for producing trust that can help resolve social conflicts. As such, accounting is not value-neutral but carries within it a particular sociality that has moral implications. These moral implications mean that rather than assuming that accounting is neutral, reflection is needed to determine where and when accounting can provide social goods and where its assumptions about relations can have vicious effects.

The dissertation explores accounting through a comparison to language. Rather than assuming that accounting should be considered a universally true and impersonal form of counting that is purely objective, I suggest it is better understood as a form of recounting or storytelling. There are various ways that one can (ac)count (for) things. The project explores historical developments within accounting to note how it has evolved over time. It also considers the social and moral contexts in which the modern iteration of accounting developed to demonstrate the particular way in which modern accounting arranges individuals.

The project brings the unexpected moral elements of modern accounting into sharp relief by contrasting it to the concept of gift. Gift and the exchanges assumed by modern accounting are rooted in larger moral economies or forms of life in which they are intelligible. In as much as modern accounting has been exported into realms of life beyond business and finance, it creates an accounting imaginary that shapes how people operate in those realms. The project demonstrates this point by delineating the impact of a modern accounting imaginary on Christian theology and ethics. It reveals that discussions of sin, debt, and salvation often are situated within a form of life made intelligible by modern accounting in contrast to the form of life visible in the trinitarian life at creation and Pentecost. Likewise, discussions of humanitarianism and hospitality demonstrate the relational constraints that an accounting framework imposes and its ethical consequences.

Degree Date

Spring 2024

Document Type


Degree Name



Religious Studies


D. Stephen Long

Second Advisor

Jill DeTemple

Third Advisor

Rebekah Miles

Fourth Advisor

Nimi Wariboko

Number of Pages




Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License