So, last weekend I attended a conference at Simon Fraser University in downtown Vancouver. The conference was entitled: Death, Ideologies and Cultures: The Legacy of Ernest Becker.
I must say to start off that I commend the organizers and the conference sponsors, in particular the SFU Institute for the Humanities, the Psych Department and the Ernest Becker Foundation, led by Dr. Neil Elgee (who attended the conference too). Except for some confusion over communication about the actual venue of the conference, it was run smoothly. Sessions started and ended on time, by and large. The speakers were excellent. The keynote speaker, Sheldon Solomon, who has been heavily involved in promoting Becker’s work for decades now, is a very compelling and engaging speaker. Thank you, Sheldon! I’ve heard him speak via film before in an excellent movie called Flight from Death directed by Patrick Shen and produced by Greg Bennick and Shen. It’s an excellent documentary about Becker’s work and addresses in its second half what’s called Terror Management Theory, created by Solomon and colleagues, the very successful attempt to operationalize some of the more salient aspects of Becker’s work. If you want to see Solomon at his best, check out this documentary.
When I was still teaching, the volume of research into Becker was not particularly impressive, but it’s growing splendidly as can be attested by the evidence presented during this conference. I have always, and still do, find it interesting how so many disparate ideological perspectives on the world use Becker to support their findings or to help underpin their practice, from Buddhists to Protestant theologians to psychologists of all kinds and even to the odd Marxist. Jack Martin, the first presenter on Saturday morning gave us a Cole’s Notes overview of Becker’s life and work. He’s writing (written?) a biography of Becker. Becker’s wife, Marie and her son were on hand for his presentation. In fact, Marie was present for most of the conference. I wondered how she felt listening to Martin go over details of her life with Becker. There was no telling by the expressions on her face. I expect she was and is a very stoical person but I only spoke with her briefly so that’s probably an erroneous assessment. Her son (I can’t remember his name) wasn’t too impressed with the gathering, I sensed. I recall that he made some comment about the futility of conferences like this or even about the value of his father’s work. Fair enough.
There is no substitute to reading Ernest Becker’s work itself. The Denial of Death and Escape From Evil are his last two books. The Ernest Becker Foundation has a list. I do a blow by blow outline of Escape From Evil on this blog. Check out the archives for that. It was some time ago now. I have more thoughts on the conference and some of the presenters. I’ll be back tomorrow.
See the Ernest Becker Foundation: http://ernestbecker.org/?page_id=125