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Dr. Ernest Becker (September 27, 1924, Massachusetts - March 6, 1974, Vancouver, British Columbia) was a cultural anthropologist and interdisciplinary scientific thinker and writer.
Becker was born in Springfield, Massachusetts to Jewish immigrant parents. After completing military service, in which he served in the infantry and helped to liberate a Nazi concentration camp, he attended Syracuse University in New York. Upon graduation he joined the US Embassy in Paris as an administrative officer. In his early 30s, he returned to Syracuse University to pursue graduate studies in cultural anthropology. He completed his Ph.D. in 1960. The first of his nine books, Zen, A Rational Critique (1961) was based on his doctoral dissertation. After Syracuse, he became a professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC (Canada).
Becker came to the position that psychological inquiry inevitably comes to a dead end beyond which belief systems must be invoked to satisfy the human psyche. The reach of such a perspective consequently encompasses science and religion, even to what Sam Keen suggests is Becker's greatest achievement, the creation of the "science of evil." In formulating his theories Becker drew on the work of Søren Kierkegaard, Sigmund Freud, Wilhelm Reich, Norman O. Brown, Erich Fromm, and especially Otto Rank. Becker came to believe that a person's character is essentially formed around the process of denying his own mortality, that this denial is necessary for the person to function in the world, and that this character-armor prevents genuine self-knowledge. Much of the evil in the world, he believed, was a consequence of this need to deny death.
Because of his breadth of vision and avoidance of social science specialization, Becker was an academic outcast in the last decade of his life. It was only with the award of the Pulitzer Prize in 1974 for his 1973 book, The Denial of Death (two months after his own death from cancer at the age of 49) that he gained wider recognition. Escape From Evil (1975) was intended as a significant extension of the line of reasoning begun in Denial of Death, developing the social and cultural implications of the concepts explored in the earlier book. Although the manuscript's second half was left unfinished at the time of his death, it was completed from what manuscript existed as well as from notes on the unfinished chapter.
The Ernest Becker Foundation  is devoted to multidisciplinary inquiries into human behavior, with a particular focus on contributing to the reduction of violence in human society, using Becker's basic ideas to support research and application at the interfaces of science, the humanities, social action and religion.
Some of the above information is from the EBF website and used by permission.
Becker also wrote The Birth and Death of Meaning which gets its title from the concept of man moving away from the simple minded ape into a world of symbols and illusions, and then deconstructing those illusions through his own evolving intellect.
More information about the life and works of Ernest Becker can be found at http://www.ernest-becker.com
- Becker E (1973) The Denial of Death. Collier-Mac. ISBN 0029023106
- Becker E (1975) Escape from Evil. Free Press ISBN 0029023408
- Becker E (1973) The Birth and Death of Meaning. ISBN 0029021901
- Becker E (1985) Revolution in Psychiatry: The New Understanding of Man.The Free Press. ISBN 0029025109
Publications about Ernest BeckerEdit
- Liechty D (ed.) (2005) The Ernest Becker Reader. University of Washington Press. ISBN 0-295-98470-8
- Liechty D (ed.) (2002) Death and Denial: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Legacy of Ernest Becker. Praeger. ISBN 0-27-597420-0
- Liechty D (1995) Transference & Transcendence: Ernest Becker's Contribution to Psychotherapy. Aronson. ISBN 1-56-821434-0
- Streeter J (2009) Human Nature, Human Evil, and Religion: Ernest Becker and Christian Theology. University Press of America. ISBN 978-0-7618-4357-3
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