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Journal of Humanistic Psychology


transference, Ernest Becker, death anxiety, existential psychology


The death anxiety thesis is widely considered to be Ernest Becker’s primary contribution to social theory and is associated with his most widely read book, The Denial of Death (1973). This essay suggests Becker is understood in a more sophisticated and nuanced way when his death anxiety thesis is situated in the context of his earlier work in the humanities and social sciences. The death anxiety thesis itself is one component of a much broader theoretical conceptualization of expanded transference, a constant thread through all of Becker’s writings from his doctoral dissertation through his final posthumously published works. Furthermore, the contention here is that this conceptualization of expanded transference provides a far more comprehensive and complex interpretation matrix for the understanding of human motivation, as well as cultural and political phenomena, than the death anxiety thesis does in isolation.

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This article was published Open Access thanks to a transformative agreement between Milner Library and Sage.




First published in Journal of Humanistic Psychology (2024).

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.