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ISU sociology professor Aho gives workshop at University of Chicago

Posted May 2, 2007

James Aho, PhD, a sociology professor at Idaho State University, walked through the doors of what appeared to be a glass-lined corporate office building, through its marble lobby and to the wall on the opposite side where pictures of prestigious Nobel Prize winners from the University of Chicago stared at him.

“It was intimidating,” Aho said.

Aho was at the University of Chicago Hyde Park Center to give a workshop on theories from his latest book, “Confession and Bookkeeping: The Religious, Moral, and Rhetorical Roots of Modern Accounting.”

His book looks at how modern accounting came about as it relates to religion. According to Aho, modern accounting originated in the 1300s out of a sense of debt that merchants felt toward their community, church, God and the larger world.

His book received a good review from the American Journal of Sociology. The fame from the review brought him to Chicago, Aho said.

At Chicago, he met with each graduate student studying sociology. The young, vibrant and intense young men went after his argument.

“They tried to hammer me,” Aho said. “It was fun.”

Aho’s book compares the double-entry bookkeeping of accountants to the religious practice of confession. The meticulous bookkeeping can be related to procedures of interrogation in confession, and the moral teachings regarding commerce and interest taking of confession.

“Americans are the most church-going population in the first world, but they have a peculiar sense of impiety,” said Aho.

Aho defines piety as a sense of debt that can never be paid back. For

Aho Gives Dissertation at the University of Chicago example, he feels that he could never pay his parents back for the life they gave him.

However, he said that most Americans feel piety toward their parents, but that the American ideal of the self-made man counteracts most people’s piety toward the world at large.

“We have no sense of how the larger world has bestowed our prosperity as a gift to us,” Aho said.

Aho has taught at Idaho State University since 1969. This is Aho’s seventh book. He writes mainly about religion and the body. His interest in religion began at an early age. His family members are active Methodists and some of his relatives were congregational ministers as well as sociologists.

“In this country there has always been a connection between religion and sociology,” Aho said. “You can’t understand this country without knowledge of religion.”