Marie Seong-Hak Kim (St. Cloud, Minnesota/Bonn): Rites and Rights: Lineage Property and Law in Korea


Did Weber get it all wrong? His thesis on the incompatibility between Confucianism and capitalism has lost much of its credibility, and his not-so-subtle assessment of Chinese ancestor worship (“purely magical religiosity” of the “cult of ancestral spirits”) sounds rather out of place in the twenty-first century. The Weberian analysis can nevertheless serve as a case in point that rituals and institutions in the world’s legal traditions carried profound symbolic and cultural dimensions and at the same time operated in critical historical and normative environments.

Investigation of lineage property offers an opportunity to explore how Confucian ancestor worship evolved in legal, social, and cultural settings and how its manifestation and transmission through the rites fared with the concept of individual rights. Desire to safeguard lineage estates is universal, but the distinct ritual obligations in Confucian culture placed it in a fundamentally retrospective framework. Within East Asia, Koreans, arguably far more orthodox in their interpretation of Confucian precepts than the Chinese, adhered to strict primogeniture grounded on indigenous kinship ideology. This ultimately prevented lineage property from turning into joint property-holding corporate estates as in China.

In the twentieth century, the rigid rules of Confucian rituals proved to be in conflict with social and economic realities, and succession rules as well as the legal status of lineage property have undergone serious reconfiguration. Yet present-day Korea remains the only country in the world where a substantial percentage of people perform ancestor memorial services in private households. While China seeks to adapt capitalism to its socialist principles and invoke instrumental interpretations of Confucian filial piety, the more punctilious model of ancestor worship in Korea can shed important light on the question of law as culture, more specifically to what extent law is reflective, and constitutive, of culture. Weber focused on identifying differences between the East and West. After all, he deserves credit – his alleged Eurocentrism aside – for resisting a potentially more pernicious view of the incommensurability of legal traditions.             

(Prof. Dr. Marie Seong-Hak Kim)

Curriculum Vitae

Marie Seong-Hak Kim ist Professorin für Geschichte an der St. Clouds State Universität Minnesota, USA. Nach ihrem Studium an der Ewha Womans Universität in Seoul, Korea, wurde sie sowohl im Fach Geschichte als auch in den Rechtswissenschaften an der Universität Minnesota promoviert. Seit 1995 ist sie in Minnesota als Rechtsanwältin zugelassen. Ihre Berufung zur Professorin erfolgte im Jahr 2000. Darüber hinaus ist sie Forschungsmitglied am Institut d'Asie Orientale in Lyon, Frankreich und Mitglied des International Editorial Board of Comparative Legal History.

Prof. Kim ist Trägerin zahlreicher nationaler und internationaler Forschungsstipendien und Preise. So erhielt sie beispielsweise das National Endowment of Humanities Fellowship, das Fulbright Senior Scholar Grant (Korea), das American Philosophical Society Franklin Research Grant und das Academy of Korean Studies Research Fellowship. Des Weiteren war Prof. Kim als Gastprofessorin in Korea sowie als Foundation Research Fellow in Tokio, Japan tätig. In Europa war sie bereits Fellow am Collegium de Lyon, am Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS) in Wassenaar sowie am Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt. Von 2016 bis 2017 war sie EURIAS- und Marie-Curie-Stipendiatin der Europäischen Union am Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies.

Ihr Forschungsschwerpunkt ist die vergleichende Rechtsgeschichte. Sie befasst sich insbesondere mit dem koreanischen, japanischen und französischen Recht.

Seit April 2019 ist Prof. Dr. Marie Seong-Hak Kim Fellow am Käte Hamburger Kolleg „Recht als Kultur“ in Bonn.