Awareness to Accounting and Role of Accounting at Religious Organizations: The Case of Brotherhoods of Seville at the Last Decade of 16th Century
Jesus Damian Lopez-Manjon (email@example.com), Juan Baños Sanchez-Matamoros (firstname.lastname@example.org) & Maria Concepcion Alvarez-Dardet Espejo (email@example.com) (all at Universidad Pablo de Olavide)
This work questions if religious organizations with common shared beliefs and sacred objectives, but which members had a different level of awareness to accounting, should show a different behaviour concerning: a) the status of accounting in their internal organisations; and b) the permeability of such organizations to new accounting techniques. To reach our aim, we have analysed the content of 6 rules of brotherhoods located in the city of Seville (Spain), and enacted at the last decade of the 16th century. We have split the brotherhoods depending on its link or not with a guild or professional group. We can conclude that the awareness to accounting of its members and the perception of the belief system are explanations to cover the dissimilar behaviour of the brotherhoods in relation to accounting.
Review by Masayoshi Noguchi
This paper is a new instalment of the most interesting work on accounting of religious orders that is emanating from Seville and was distributed by NEP-HIS on 2012-05-22. As the authors point out, the analysis of accounting function in religious organisations is currently one of the most important topics in accounting history research. It has successfully provided a reinterpretation of the past whether at monasteries or cathedrals. Institution that came to dominate everyday life in Europe during the middle ages.
The basic research question of the paper is: ‘if religious organizations with common shared beliefs and sacred objectives, but which [sic] members had a diverse level of awareness to accounting, should show a different behaviour concerning: a) the status of accounting in their internal organisations; and b) the permeability of such organizations to new accounting techniques’ (p. 3). Through the analysis, the authors argue how the combination of the ledger control system; the context in which the organisations were placed; and, more importantly, the awareness of the members to accounting techniques, all came together to forge a unique link between professional guilds. This link could play an important role in explaining why accounting in religious organisations adopted specific features (p.9). As a result, they argue, a categorisation of accounting between sacred and profane over simplifies the operational context of religious organisations.
As the analytical object the authors choose the rules of six brotherhoods located in the city of Seville and which established in the second half of the 16th century. An important element of this study is the relation of the brotherhoods with closed craft groups called ‘guilds’. Specifically, the authors argue that the guilds exercised significant influence on accounting procedures prescribed in the rules adopted by some of the brotherhoods. Seville was the most active city in terms of the activities of the guilds, because of the recognized monopoly of the commerce with the Spanish American colonies (p. 4). Also the location within the city played an important part in the story: ‘Traders and craftsmen dedicated to the same profession used to live in the same neighbourhood and, therefore, attend to same parish or convent’ (p. 12). So, guild members would normally belong to the same brotherhood (p.12)
The main conclusion of this paper is as follows: the three brotherhoods linked to guilds tended to use more advanced accounting devices and terminology than those not linked. Those most closely connected with specific guilds (i.e. the Santiago and the Buen Viaje), their rules contained more advanced technical terms and accounting jargon than the others. However, the categorization based on the linkage with the guilds could explain difference in the rules concerning the submission of accounts to a body of members for approval.
This study has some limitation, as the authors themselves recognise. Namely, it only analyzed the rules but not the practices of the brotherhoods. So it is not clear the extent to which they actually adopted accounting practices. Indeed, as has been documented by Bátiz-Lazo and others, a common shortcoming of Spanish accounting historiography has been its inference based on text books and rule books. Nothing definite can be said about the technical level of accounting adopted unless actual practices are analysed. It is quite normal that every day practice is carried out in completely different way from that prescribed in rules or regulations. Probably, establishing this link between rules and actual practices in the religious orders explored is the next research task.
Although there are issues, this paper is quite enjoyable to read but as noted, further development is expected.