Ernest Becker was an American cultural anthropologist, interdisciplinary researcher, writer, and theorist. While his body of work is impressive, he is most known for The Denial of Death (1974), which earned him a Pulitzer Prize. In The Denial of Death, Becker argued that “the basic motivation for human behavior is our biological need to control our basic anxiety, to deny the terror of death.” (Keen 1973).

The Denial of Death: Listen to Ernest Becker’s Final Interview

Ernest Becker

The Denial of Death poses that civilization is ultimately a complex, symbolic defense mechanism against the awareness of mortality. From this, Becker articulates that humans pursue “immortality projects,” which are the ways in which we can be a part of something that will outlast our time on Earth.

Even though our physical bodies will die, to be a part of something that lives on after us, allows us to have a sense of meaning and purpose. Nearly 50 years after its publication, The Denial of Death continues to influence and inform scholars, thinkers, and cultural workers.

It is hard to measure Ernest Becker’s impact on today’s death-awareness communities, as the influence of his work is tremendous. Ernest Becker was one of the first modern scholars to examine and discuss death-awareness in our lives as we currently know it. His research synthesized theories and ideologies from a spectrum of sources to develop a concrete framework for addressing and analyzing the role of death-awareness in twentieth century western society, particularly for white and Christian communities.

TalkDeath’s mission is to encourage generative conversations around death and dying, so it is unsurprising that Becker’s work shines through so much of what we do at TalkDeath. From death cafes, to mortality meditations, to discussions of death and dying, none of our collective communities or practices would look like or stand exactly as they do today had it not been for Becker’s writing decades ago.


In 1993, the Ernest Becker Foundation (EBF) was established to advance understandings of death anxiety in order to encourage ways of living together more peacefully. The EBF raised awareness among leaders, policy makers and the general public concerning the effects of our denial and fear of death on individual and societal behavior. Through public education, outreach and partnerships, Becker’s understanding of human motivation has served as a catalyst for self-awareness and social change, and has helped to foster a healthier and more peaceful world. Additionally, EBF served as the central hub and resource for people worldwide interested in Ernest Becker’s work and supported projects to advance the practical and academic legacies of Becker’s work.

Dr Ernest Becker (1924-1974) - Find a Grave MemorialEffective at the end of 2023, the EBF closed its doors. TalkDeath was proud to have supported the Ernest Becker Foundation. Our editor, Mandy, was on the Board of the EBF, and her time with them affirmed and augmented our endeavors at TalkDeath. We are grateful to the Ernest Becker Foundation and we are grateful for its positive impact on our work and community at TalkDeath.

Before closing its doors, the EBF awarded TalkDeath a donation to support our efforts to educate and build community around death and dying. This grant aides us in our mission to share resources and conversations around death and loss. We hope to keep Becker’s idea and legacy alive. The work of Ernest Becker and the EBF encourages us in our mission to speak openly on death and dying.

Ernest Becker Interview

While we reflect on Ernest Becker and the Ernest Becker Foundation, we’re pleased to share this final interview with Ernest Becker conducted by Sam Keen only a few months before Becker’s death on March 6, 1974.


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