The Ernest Becker Foundation
Upcoming Events with Sheldon Solomon
Sheldon Solomon Event for Students
January MALS Seminar, Skidmore College
“A Cultural Animal in an Existential Age”
The charm of history and its enigmatic lesson consist in the fact that, from age to age, nothing changes and yet everything is completely different.
--Aldous Huxley, The Devils of Loudun
Course description: An interdisciplinary
examination of how universal human existential concerns (death, choice/responsibility, isolation, meaninglessness) have been addressed at
different times in history, with particular
attention to modernity.
Texts: The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker
The Cry for Myth, Rollo May
The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death
in Life, Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, & Tom Pyszczynski (Pub. date March 15, 2015)
Clock without Hands, Carson McCullers
More Info: www.skidmore.edu/mals
Security and Terrorism in the Modern World: Social Science and Legal Perspectives
Law and Psychology Visiting Scholar Program
April 8-10, 2013
University of Nebraska–Lincoln (http://psychology.unl.edu/)
Each year the visiting scholars program includes a “think-tank” during which preeminent scholars come together on the UNL campus to meet and discuss specific thematic topics. Faculty from thePsychology Department and from the Law School at UNL will serve as discussants for the talks. The goal is to promote interdisciplinary communication and debate specific controversies that concern security and terrorism in the modern world.
The Glendon Association is delighted to have Sheldon as the next presenter in their Webinar series. Sheldon will present two Webinars: the first will be a CE Webinar “Creating Meaning: on the Role of Death in Life" http://cts.vresp.com/c/?TheGlendonAssociatio/0b64671176/def4706c1b/81778e7385/id=136576489 on May 22.
The second will be a free webinar “Self-Esteem: The Belief that One is a Valuable Contributor to a Meaningful Universe" http://cts.vresp.com/c/?TheGlendonAssociatio/0b64671176/def4706c1b/cdc5eb5632/id=667188192 on June 12.
Dr. Solomon is one of the founders of Terror Management Theory http://cts.vresp.com/c/?TheGlendonAssociatio/0b64671176/def4706c1b/f1c6d58c1d (TMT). TMT’s basic tenet is that human behavior is largely motivated by the fear of mortality. Over the past 30 years, TMT researchers have conducted more than 250 empirical studies in an attempt to validate several of Ernest Becker’s original theories regarding how people deal with existential realities. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning work, The Denial of Death, Becker argued that “the fear of death is a universal that unites data from several disciplines….and makes wonderfully clear and intelligible human actions….and ‘true ‘ human motives.” Findings from the TMT studies show that raising people’s death salience (death awareness) has a powerful effect on their attitudes, beliefs and actions, causing them to adhere more closely to their own cultural worldviews while denigrating those who hold different views.
Dr. Solomon is a professor of psychology at Skidmore College He probably best known for his research in Terror Management Theory, along with Jeff Greenberg and Tom Pyszczynski (TMT). He is the author or co-author of over a hundred articles and several books, including In the Wake of 9/11: The Psychology of Terror and has been featured in several films including “Flight from Death." We hope you will join us for these exciting programs!
Grave Matters: On the Role of Death in Life, Columbia University, Center for Study of Science and Religion (CSSR).
"The Center for the Study of Science and Religion (CSSR) was founded in the summer of 1999 as a forum for the examination of issues that lie at the boundary of these two complementary ways of comprehending the world and our place in it. By examining the intersections that cross over the boundaries between one or another science and one or another religion, the CSSR hopes to stimulate dialogue and encourage understanding. The CSSR is not interested in promoting one or another science or religion, and we hope that the service we provide will be of benefit and offer understanding into all sciences and religions."
"Residential Institute in October and February. For five days our students in the Department of Conflict Analysis and Resolution and the Department of Multidisciplinary Studies who study with us in a distance format come to our main campus to spend time with us. They attend their online classes live, participate in discussions, roundtables and forums, engage in experiential education, meet with faculty and with our students who study here on main campus, and socialize. We have a dinner with a keynote speaker specially selected for their work in the field. Our students are graduate students pursuing degrees at the MA/MS and Ph.D. levels in areas including Cross-disciplinary Studies (MA), National Security Affairs (MS), College Student Affairs (MS) and Conflict Analysis and Resolution (MS and Ph.D.) Our students are very diverse and come from across the nation and around the globe. We have Fulbright Scholars from nations such as Jordan, the Philippines, and Kenya. Our faculty members come from a variety of disciplines. We also have students pursuing their MS, Ph.D., or DMFT in the Department of Marriage and Family Therapy and we share our building with the Center for Psychological Studies."
Magic is one of those words where the precise definition may not be immediately accessible; however, you know it when you see it. That was my luck a week ago here in Bellingham when all of a sudden the front door opened and Neil Elgee was standing tall right next to Sheldon Solomon (of course, wearing his typical dark blue, pinstriped suit and Ralph Lauren tie). They arrived to entertain my four Dobermans and Sheldon got right to work being the natural dog lover that he clearly is.
There was actually a slightly more serious reason for their visit to Bellingham - as Sheldon was going to be interviewed for a new documentary with the working title “Afraid of the Dark – Humanity at the Crossroads.” This was also the title of the lecture that he was to present in Bellingham the next night sponsored by Western Washington University and of course, The Ernest Becker Foundation.
We got to work quickly Sunday afternoon and started filming Sheldon perched upon a barstool in the kitchen elucidating in his typical voluminous but targeted and highly organized style of communicating. And so, we were off to the races between bites of homemade pizza and ice cream.
If that wasn't magical enough, the next day there was a knock at the door and a very spunky, friendly woman named Marie Becker-Pos from Vancouver, BC arrived to spend the afternoon with us and also attend Sheldon’s lecture. What a delight she was! The quality of the magic now ratcheted to an even higher level of extraordinary. (FYI, Marie was Ernest Becker's wife).
Sheldon's lecture was scheduled for 5:30PM on Monday, which was not exactly prime time (there was some concern about how many people would actually attend). Bruce Shepherd, the President of Western Washington University along with Dean of the Humanities Department, Brent Carbajal, arrived and for a time it seemed there might be a sparse gathering. Then, about 15 minutes before show time, the seats began to fill rapidly until suddenly the theater of 137 spaces was entirely filled. Unfortunately, there were about 50 people who came to hear Sheldon who had to be turned away for lack of space. And the magic continued…
The lecture was videotaped and we hope to have it available to you soon with links from the EBF website. Here are a few brief sketches of discussion points that Sheldon discussed during his visit:
Why is there so much psychopathology in the US – depression, anxiety, drug abuse? How has the planet Earth become almost unfit for human habitation? Apparently our culture, that is constructed to ameliorate death anxiety, is failing us. Cultures have three primary responsibilities, the first being to provide adequately for physical needs of the population; secondly, to provide for the psychological needs of the people and thirdly, to protect and not impinge upon the rights of its citizens. Our culture does not seem to be doing a very good job at all levels. The reason that Becker, Camus and Kierkegaard have suggested is that Americans have yet to "come to terms with their death anxiety".
Sheldon discussed Nietzsche and his contention that in the late 1880’s the convergence of Darwin's Theory of Evolution, the flourishing of the industrial revolution and the exploding discoveries of modern science were leading to a culmination of cultural emptiness. It seems that since "God is dead," maybe the only thing left is Consumerism. Again, quoting Kierkegaard, ''once you lose the overarching framework that provides a reason to live either you fall into despair or tranquilize yourself with the trivial".
Max Weber said "In the natural world every desire is satiable." However, in our modern capitalistic American culture, it seems that many people have become 'insatiable' in their need to acquire and accumulate money. But why is this drive for unlimited accumulation of money problematic? Sheldon says it creates contempt for nature and an overt disregard for the environment. John Maynard Keynes says that “money as a means to enjoy life is quite natural but when money becomes an 'end in itself', then it's a sickness.”
So what is one person to do in the face of our massively toxic culture that is likely unchangeable in the near-term? What can we do instead of descending into despair or trivia? The magic that Sheldon passionately conveyed to his receptive audience is captured in one word: understanding. That is where we start, just as Becker quotes Spinoza in an epigraph to Denial of Death:
“Not to ridicule, not to lament, not to curse, but to understand.”
Sheldon the educator wants us to spread the understanding “against the confusion.” As Becker the synthesizer says, “… knowledge is in a state of useless overproduction, strewn all over the place … Its insignificant fragments are magnified all out of proportion, while its major and world-historical insights lie around begging for attention.” Once we put these insights into an organizing understanding, our efforts, however feeble, could, maybe, lead to some degree of improvement.
Finitude and the Faithful Care of the Dying
July 28-30, 2011
Swedish Hospital James Tower/Cherry Hill campus
Co-sponsored by UW Dept. of Psychiatry, the PsychoOncology Dept. at Swedish Cancer Institute and WSHPCO
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.