Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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(1925-1974) American social psychiatrist, prominent figure in "existential psychiatry."

Becker's many writings went beyond disciplinary boundaries and merged motifs from sociology, anthropology, history, psychiatry, and religion into a unique philosophical anthropology. He especially criticized the failure of the specialized social sciences to address central problems of meaning in human existence. He attempted to remedy this situation in a series of works that extended and synthesized the insights of a varied group of writers, including Rousseau, Marx, Freud, and Otto Rank, whose work on heroes and hero worship was particularly central for Becker.

In a trilogy of volumes—The Birth and Death of Meaning (Free Press 1962), The Revolution in Psychiatry (Free Press 1963), and The Structure of Evil (Braziller 1968)—Becker established a unified perspective on human behavior rooted in a comprehensive theory of human alienation and a new valorization of scientific progress. The Denial of Death (Free Press 1973) studied the establishment of standardized cultural symbol systems and heroic images as activities precipitated by the need to overcome the terror of death. The posthumously published companion volume, Escape from Evil (Free Press 1975), traced evil in human existence to these very efforts to deny mortality and create heroic self-images.

Donald A. Nielsen

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