Purpose – The paper aims to extend research which has sought to explain Britain's early success as an industrial power by identifying the influence of religious doctrine of the Dissenting Protestant churches on the development of accounting practices in the factory. The concern is not with specific accounting practices but with the social and moral environment which provided the incentives and permissions that encouraged late eighteenth century English industrialists to develop the practices that they used.
Design/methodology/approach – The paper draws on the highly influential writings of social theorists such Weber, Sombart and Tawney to identify the religious doctrines that both motivated and justified the rational, ideological business practices of prominent businessmen.
Findings – The rise of accounting as a powerful tool of control and discipline was significantly assisted by the teaching of the Dissenting Protestant churches on “calling”. Religious beliefs provided permissions, justifications and incentives which underpinned the entrepreneurial energies, opportunities and successes of the early industrialists. Accounting could be seen to assume almost the aura and nascent legitimacy of a religious practice, a means of sanctifying practices which were otherwise reviled by social elites.
Originality/value – Despite encouragement from accounting researchers for histories of accounting which give greater credence to the reflexivity between accounting and society, this has yet to find a significant presence amongst the searches for beginnings in cost accounting where economic and management factors remain the overwhelming focus. Religious beliefs are shown to have been especially influential in the adoption of accounting practices by early industrialists who were frequently members of the Dissenting Protestant churches.