Obituary: Dieter Eikemeier (1938-2022)
Dieter Eikemeier died after a long illness on Dec. 19, 2022. He was predeceased by his wife, Martha, on November 23, 2022, and is survived by two sons.
After receiving his post-doctoral degree (Habilitation) in 1976 at Ruhr University Bochum where Bruno Lewin had established the study of Korea a decade earlier, he became the first professor of Korean Studies at Tuebingen University in 1979 and thus the first full professor of Korean Studies in then West Germany. He retired from this post in 2003.
He was one of the founders of the Association of Korean Studies (AKSE) in 1977 and later was made an honorary member.
He is the author of :
Elemente im Politischen Denken des Yǒn’am Pak Chiwǒn (1737-1805): Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der kulturellen Beziehungen zwischen China und Korea. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1970.
Documents from Changjwa-ri. A Further Approach to the Analysis of Korean Villages. Veroeffentlichung des Ostasien-Instituts der Ruhr-Universitaet Bochum vol. 25, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1980.
He also authored a large number of articles on varied topics of Korean studies. During his later years, his attention was focused on what he called the “common religion” of Korea. With the passing of Dieter Eikemeier, the Korean Studies community has lost one of its distinguished members.
A Perspective of Korean Studies
Universitätsprofessor im Ruhestand Dieter Eikemeier
My way of practising Korean studies is studying Korean culture, past and present, by doing research into ways of perception and knowledge, in order to learn how social facts in Korea acquire shape via the schemata applied to interpret them. Such investigations do without pitting “facts proper” against “improper interpretations,” but they cannot do without aligning findings from political history with, say, those from religion or literature.
Hyangyak, kye and the like, traditional unions devised as instruments to implement policies of local self-regulation and self-help, but also of local control on behalf of the authorities, played a major part in the research up to the early 1990s, and so did the so-called “popular performing arts,” mask-dance plays in particular. Since then, the emphasis has been on common religion, on rituals and oral traditions that transcend the confines of “-isms,” Buddhism, Confucianism, Shamanism, Taoism, and in fact make such divisions rather meaningless. Much as a view that brings common religion into focus neglects the religion of the educated classes of Korean society, it may, as it is hoped, better account for the instability and the dynamics of religious life, which so far have been causing much embarrassment among students of religions in Korea.
Considerations of the latter kind have found their way into a research project that has been on my mind for a number of years and will be for a few more, and it is hoped to soon involve more people and to do so in more formalized ways. The object in question is the shrine religion of Cheju Island, which is a facet of what use to be labelled “Shamanism.” The starting point of the enquiries was a conventional attempt to come to terms with the plurality of the divine on Cheju Island. The common perspective, assigning each deity or spirit from among the multitude to specific economic pursuits, has been rather well accepted and repeated unexamined, and this unquestioned acceptance was the very motif to take a closer look at the matter. In my researching and hypothesizing, the Cheju variant of polytheism shows primarily to be informed by political considerations and status distinctions among the humans, and economic pursuits matter only to the degree they matter in power relations.