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Award-winning documentary on "death anxiety" to be shown at Bethel College

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. -- Not many of us care to think about death, but not doing so may have a profound effect on us personally and our society in general. That’s the view of a group of social psychologists who are students of the late cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker and the work described in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Denial of Death.

One of those social psychologists, Daniel Liechty, associate professor in the School of Social Work at Illinois State University in Normal, will be on the Bethel College campus Thursday evening, March 30, for a showing of the documentary Flight from Death: The Quest for Immortality. Bethel College’s department of social work is sponsoring the showing of the film.

Liechty is the featured speaker the next day at the 4th annual conference in Prairie View’s Learning Institute. The day-long conference is called "Facing mortality: Clinical, professional and personal implications."

Flight from Death will be shown at 7:30 p.m. in the projection room in the basement of the Mennonite Library and Archives. It is free and open to the public. Liechty is scheduled to be present for a brief discussion and question-and-answer period after the 90-minute documentary.

Actor Gabriel Byrne narrates Flight from Death, which won seven major awards (six "Best Documentary" and one "Best Feature") at film festivals, such as the Malibu International, Ohio Independent and Silver Lake, across the country.

Flight from Death has been called "the most comprehensive and mind-blowing investigation of humankind’s relationship with death ever captured on film. It holds up "death anxiety" as a possible root cause of many of our behaviors on a psychological, spiritual and cultural level, which follows the work of Ernest Becker.

Flight from Death explores the ongoing research of a group of social psychologists. Over the last 25 years, these researchers have conducted more than 300 laboratory studies to substantiate Becker’s claim that death anxiety is a primary motivator of human behavior, specifically aggression and violence.

One of those researchers is Daniel Liechty. He is also one of the interviewees in Flight from Death, along with other scholars, authors, philosophers and researchers including Sam Keen, Robert Jay Lifton, Irvin Yalom and Sheldon Solomon.

The result is a film that is "not only thought-provoking but also entertaining and put together with a lot of class," said Eric Campos in Film Threat. Jeff Shannon of the Seattle Times called it "a stimulating, ultimately life-affirming film, filled with big ideas and revelatory footage." The documentary took three years to make and was filmed in eight different countries.

Daniel Liechty, a graduate of Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., the University of Vienna, and Bryn Mawr College’s Graduate School of Social Work, has been teaching at Illinois State University since 2003. He is currently vice president of the Ernest Becker Foundation, which seeks to bring advances in social science research to the public in an effort to reduce violence.

For more information about the one-day Prairie View conference on March 31, call Judy Janzen, education coordinator, at (316) 284-6412 or (800) 362-0180, or e-mail janzen@pvi.org.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and has been named a Top Tier college by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1998. For more information, see the Bethel web site at www.bethelks.edu.

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