Public Conference: Death Ideologies and Culture: The Legacy of Ernest Becker – featuring Larry Green, Psychotherapist and CityU faculty

October 2-4, 2015

Keynote by Sheldon Solomon

Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre, SFU’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, 149 W. Hastings St.

This conference will look at the legacy of Ernest Becker’s work with regard to its applicability to our current geopolitical situation. It will review the ways we defend ourselves against the awareness of our mortality through allegiance to an ideology. Any threat to the viability of the ideology is equivalent to the death of one’s own protective meanings.

Featuring speakers:

Seldon Solomon, Skidmore College

Andres Feldmar, Psychologist

Hilda Fernandex, Psychotherapist

Larry Green, Psychotherapist

Patricia Kwok, Nurse Practictioner

David R. Loy, Buddhist Scholar

Jack Martin, Simon Fraser University

Samir Gandesh, Simon Fraser University



  • Oct 2 – 7:00 pm start. Keynote Speaker followed by a reception @ 9:00
  • Oct 3 – 9:30am start. Presentations, panel discussions & integrative seminars
  • Oct 4 – 9:30 am start. Two presentations and a concluding discussion
  • The day will end at 5:30 pm on Saturday and early afternoon on Sunday.

Download a conference flyer here.

Registration: Link here for conference website and registration details.

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.


Keynote Address:

Sheldon Solomon is the public intellectual most associated with presenting and developing Becker’s work. A very engaging speaker who appeals to both lay and academic audiences, Sheldon is a professor in the psychology department of Skidmore College, NY. He and his associates have produced a body of empirically based research supporting Becker’s theories. For example, when subjects are subliminally reminded of their mortality they express more conservative views on a variety of issues including immigration. Subjects similarly rated in-group members more positively and ‘outsiders’ more negatively, after being reminded of their mortality. Many of his talks are posted on YouTube.


Other Speakers in Alphabetical order:

Andrew Feldmar: An associate of R.D. Laing (who coined the term “ontological insecurity”), Feldmar has worked with the terminally ill, most notable cancer patients. More recently he developed a treatment protocol for those with PTSD. His talk will explore the unintended consequences of “maximum security”.

Hilda Fernandez: The founder of Vancouver’s Lacan Salon, as well as a frequent contributor to events sponsored by SFU’s Institute of the Humanities, Hilda will examine Becker’s notion of the symbolic through the Lacanian tri-partite model of the Imaginary, the Symbolic and the Real.

Samir Gandesha: Director of the Institute of the Humanities at SFU, Samir’s contribution will focus on affective/somatic reaction to the “other”—disgust. Homophobia is the paradigmatic example. He also identifies disgust as the affective correlate of conflicting world views. By so doing he locates resistance at the level of the body.

Larry Green: Dr. Green is currently an adjunct professor City University Canada, in Vancouver. Additionally, he has been a psychotherapist for over 44 years. His contribution will focus on alternatives to “in-group” identification as a source of ontological security. He will focus on the difficult process of detaching from previous identifications as a precursor to a higher, more inclusive identity.

Patricia Kwok, ARNP: Patricia is a nurse practitioner who recently completed her PhD. Her dissertation explored how oncologist’s conscious and unconscious attitudes toward death influenced their treatment approach to their cancer patients.

David Loy: A Buddhist scholar associated with the Ernest Becker foundation, David has published numerous books including Lack and Transcendence: The Problem of Death and Life in Psychotherapy (1996), Nonduality: A study in comparative philosophy (1998). His latest book Money, Sex, War, Karma (2008) makes it very clear that Loy is an activist Buddhist. He will explore the double aspect of religion’s relation to death. On the one hand it can act like an umbrella shielding us from disturbing news and, on the other, like a pathway toward the ultimate encounter.

Jack Martin: A professor of psychology at SFU, Jack, recently completed a monograph on Becker’s life and work at SFU. He is a co-organizer and will participate in the conference by giving a biographical overview of Becker’s work during his years at SFU… His presentation will highlight Becker’s ongoing efforts to provide an adequate theoretical framework for human nature, which he matured and broadened to include what he regarded as an adequate theory of evil, one capable of informing how it might be combatted.






Co-sponsored by SFU’s FASSJ.S. Woodsworth Chair in the HumanitiesVancity Office of Community EngagementDepartment of Psychology, & the Ernest Becker Foundation