Ernest Becker Legacy Conference

October 02, 2015

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As part of SFU’s 50th anniversary celebrations, this conference commemorates the time, from 1969-1974, that Ernest Becker was a tenured Professor at SFU. Becker is best known for his Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Denial of Death. Being the only SFU faculty member so honoured. This conference commemorates Becker’s work at SFU and considers the continuing relevance of his ideas.

The conference is organized to address the following questions: What role can Becker’s ideas play—in an era of massive social upheaval, perpetual war and climate change—to help transcend the ever-deepening conflicts generated by differing world views? Does his thought provide resources to illuminate what sociologist Anthony Giddens (1991), referred to as the increasing “ontological insecurity” that characterizes postmodernity?

Becker claimed that individuals mitigate their death anxiety by adopting their culture’s worldview, allowing them to experience themselves as valuable members of a meaningful social world. However, we are living through a time when finding a coherent, culture with a consistent worldview is anything but easy. Globalization is just one of many factors undermining local cultures. However, such threats to a culture’s fundamental meanings will be strenuously resisted because of the existential or ontological vulnerability that results—hence the bitterness of “ideological standoffs, culture wars and clashes of civilizations”. Does Becker identify alternatives to in-group identification as a source of existential/ontological security? In an age when “scientism” is in ascendency, is there any empirical research that supports Becker’s theoretical claims?

The various presentations, seminars, and discussions that comprise this conference will consider Becker’s theories of the human condition, human nature, human destructiveness, and explore possibilities of using his ideas to maximize individual and community freedom and fulfillment. Specific topics will include navigating cultural conflict, the psychic process of giving up ideological identifications, the possibility for transcending of limiting world views and dying with dignity.

This event will be held on Unceded xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish),
and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) territories.