Kristofer Marinus Schipper, who was known as Rik, was born on Oct. 23 1934, in Schardam, a rural town north of Amsterdam. His father, Klaas Abe Schipper, was a Mennonite pastor, and his mother, Johanna (Kuiper) Schipper, was a devout believer. Their religious convictions inspired the couple to hide Jews during the German occupation of Holland in World War II.
His father was detained and interrogated twice, each time for several months. His mother fled to Amsterdam, taking young Rik and several Jewish children to hide in safe homes.
The family survived the war, but his father’s health suffered, and he died in 1949 at 42. (For their efforts on behalf of persecuted Jews, the couple were later declared “Righteous Among the Nations” by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust remembrance center.)
The wartime experience had a profound effect on Professor Schipper.
“This really shaped his worldview, both his hatred of nationalism and his deeply humanistic preference for local democracy instead of great national narratives,” said Professor Goossaert, who teaches religious studies at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris. “That’s how he read Taoism.”
Professor Schipper came to that realization slowly. He moved to Paris to study with the French Sinologist Max Kaltenmark, one of a series of French scholars who took Taoism seriously. Most academics, however, focused on the more traditional philological study of deciphering often-obscure Taoist texts.
In 1962, Professor Schipper went to Taiwan to study at the Academia Sinica and, according to a story he liked to tell his students, was told that Taoism did not exist as a religion.