The Ernest Becker Foundation
Meet Our Team!
By EBF Staff
The Ernest Becker Foundation team has recently expanded. You already know Dr. Neil Elgee, our founder and leader since 1993 whose passion for Ernest Becker has proven the foundation for a worldwide community of Ernest Becker fans and scholars.
In June, Deborah Jacobs took the helm as our executive director, after serving as a member of the Board of Trustees over the past decade. Deborah is a successful non-profit executive with more than 20 years experience in civil liberties and human rights advocacy, including leadership roles in the ACLU and the Ms. Foundation for Women. Deborah’s first exposure to Becker came from reading The Birth and Death of Meaning as a student at Skidmore College, taught by Sheldon Solomon. As with many of us, Becker’s theories spoke to Deborah and shaped her understanding of human behavior and needs, which she has applied to her work promoting human rights and as a member of our Board of Trustees.
Christa Masson also recently joined the EBF team, managing our social media and other communications and outreach. Christa, a self-declared “Change Manager & Idea Geek” also found her thoughts transformed upon reading Becker.
“When I first read The Denial of Death, I knew right away that these theories were going to shape my personal ideology for the rest of my life. There has never been an option to remove the “Becker-colored” glasses.” said Christa.
Christa holds a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of British Columbia. Her academic interests include behavioral economics, sociology, and, of course, Ernest Becker. Her work experience includes several years in the hospitality industry as well as managing the Vancouver Peace Choir over one year through its first leadership transition.
Cory Foster has served as Neil’s right hand man since the summer of 2009. Cory performs an array of tasks for the Ernest Becker Foundation, from administrative to videography to web management and design. Cory is a graphic designer with degrees from the Art Institute of Seattle and Seattle Central Creative Academy.
Cory was brought into the Ernest Becker Foundation by his predecessor in the job, Tom Fitzpatrick. He likes contributing to the Ernest Becker Foundation’s mission because it’s done a lot to help him come to terms with mortality over the years.
“I very much agree with Woody Allen: ‘I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve immortality through not dying.’”
Our expanded leadership team comes at an ideal time, with a recent surge of interest in denial of death and terror management, fueled in part by projects like the publication of Worm at the Core. We can’t think of a better opportunity to invest in a strong team to help advance the Ernest Becker Foundation’s work.
By Neil Elgee
The science on which The Worm at the Core is based amazes me.
I thought I was well science-trained, with a science major before medical school and a two-year research fellowship after residency. But seeing experimental existential social psychology sprout over the 22 years of the Ernest Becker Foundation has been astonishing. I knew we humans have an unconscious, but exploring that world, experimentally, “in the lab,” was something I couldn’t envision. That ground-breaking research by the Terror Management trio (Jeff, Sheldon and Tom) and their protégés, is what The Worm at the Core vividly describes. They speak in a language all of us can understand and enjoy, and don’t rely on insider jargon.
And what is the main message that their research finds? It is that Becker was right. Death and its denial are major motivators of our behavior. Sure we are motivated by sex and aggression, but death is a big one. A really big one. One that Freud skirted. But here it is now buttressed by science, inspired by the brave synthesizer Ernest Becker in his Denial of Death.
We published the blurbs by Daniel Gilbert, John Horgan and Sam Keen in the March newsletter. Now a number of book reviews have been published in publications like The Chronicle of Higher Education (USA) and The Prospect Magazine (UK).
The Review in the Chronicle by senior reporter Marc Parry tells the story of the book in a remarkably long and wonderful, detailed and illustrated article.
Another good US review was a in a Virginia newspaper The Free Lance-Star (but with the British cover).
An article in the Herald Scotland newspaper based on an interview of Jeff by Barry Didcock, and there is also a UK interview of Sheldon in Prospect Magazine.
But first see the EBF Board of Directors member Michael Baumgardner’s review at our blog, The Denial File. Michael found a lot to praise and some to criticize, and The Denial File is the perfect place to present it and welcome discussion. Please read the book and study Michael’s review (and the blurbs including Sam Keen’s) and join the conversation at
Death, ideologies, and cultures: The legacy of Becker at SFU
By Larry Green and EBF Staff
As part of Simon Fraser University’s 50th anniversary celebrations, this conference (Oct 2–4) commemorates the time, 1969-1974, that Ernest Becker lectured here. He is of course best known for his Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Denial of Death. Being the only SFU faculty member so honored, a conference that acknowledges and extends his contribution will highlight SFU’s intellectual legacy over the past half century.
By Jeff Zinn
Editor’s note: We’re pleased to announce a new Becker book on live theater, The Existential Actor: Life and Death, Onstage and Off by Jeff Zinn. Some may recall that Zinn spoke to us in Seattle in 2005 on his gratitude for Becker’s synthesis, which supplies the understanding Jeff relies on in his new book.
Jeff has spent decades obsessed with questions about “How we do this acting thing.” In the 1990s he put it together after learning about Terror Management Theory (TMT) and reading the EBF issue of Zygon (2003), which provided his Eureka Moment. He then “hurried” to read Denial of Death, the deep well of insight for TMT, and, as he says at the end of the following excerpt, his “head exploded.”
- Written by EBF Staff
The Psychology of Abandon: The Berserk Style in American Culture
Kirby Farrell’s $78 2011 Berserk Style in American Culture book is now out in affordable high quality paperback as The Psychology of Abandon with significant revisions and updates. The key word above is “affordable.” Kirby is unique in the EBF firmament. His contributions to framing Becker’s work in creative language are vast, including a series of workshops with me on humor. He is a regular contributor to Psychology Today online and those blogs are also posted in our Denial File
(thedenialfile.wordpress.com), which Kirby founded. nje
When behavior becomes a cultural style, berserk abandon is terrifying yet also alluring. It promises access to extraordinary resources by overthrowing inhibitions. Berserk style has shaped many areas of contemporary American culture, from warfare to politics and intimate life. Focusing on post-Vietnam America and using perspectives from psychology, anthropology, and physiology, Farrell demonstrates the need to unpack the confusions in language and cultural fantasy that drive the nation’s fascination with berserk style.
Attention Film Buffs
The EBF has a grand group of creative people who live in NYC and its environs. Chad Gracia lives right in the middle and has connections all over, most notably in the Middle East. He has been out of touch for the past year and now we learn why. He just won the Grand Jury Award at Sundance Festival for his new documentary, The Russian Woodpecker. The film is not Beckerian in subject, but please join us in congratulating a stalwart EBF member in his wonderful achievement
From Chad Gracia:
“I was overwhelmed and deeply honored that my film - a documentary about a Ukrainian fighting the ghosts of the Soviet Union in his country - was given the top honors for World Documentary at last month’s Sundance Film Festival. It was a grand experience and a perfect capstone to 18 months of work on this fascinating project.We expect to have a theatrical and “video-on-demand” release this year. Stay tuned.”
Fred Branfman died last year at 72. We Beckerites were very fond of him. He was famous for exposing our secret Laotian bombing with unacknowledged casualties in the Vietnam War.
In his final days he devised an interpretation of Becker’s understanding of heroism that could lead to activism by high school students. His answer was to teach a heroism not at the live-forever personal nature but to controlling climate change so that our home, the earth, can live for eons.
Reis O'Brien has designed a short comic for the EBF. Reapy: The Littlest Harbinger of Death provides a brief introduction to The Denial of Death and how Becker is being used in social science research today.
This comic is great for students and adults alike. To download a pdf version click here.