Emeritus Politics Professor Sepehr Zabih Dies

Sepehr Zabih (1925 - 2009)

Sepehr Zabih, a distinguished politics professor and faculty member of Saint Mary's College for more than 40 years, died on July 11 at age 84.

Born in Iran, Professor Zabih grew up in the capital city of Tehran. In his youth, he worked as a translator and a reporter for the London Times. He had close ties to the Mossadegh movement and served as a political commentator for the Bakhtare Emrouz newspaper.

Professor Zabih left Iran in 1953, eventually traveling to Berkeley to study political science at the University of California, where he received his Ph.D. in 1963. That same year, Zabih joined the Government Department at Saint Mary's College of California.

A noted scholar on Iranian history and politics, Professor Zabih was well respected in his field, said former Saint Mary's president Brother Mel Anderson. "He was very interested in the future of Iran and therefore in the politics thereof, and he went there a lot until such time as when he could no longer visit his country, and that was when Ayatollah Khomeini took over and the Shah fell."

After U.S. hostages were taken in 1979 during the Islamic revolution in Iran, the professor was often called on to serve as an expert source on Iran for the media, contributing articles to the press and appearing frequently on the MacNeil/Lehrer Report on PBS. "But he was always very cautious when he did so," said Brother Mel. "He provided information, but in a manner that wouldn't jeopardize the safety of individuals involved in the political conflict."

Professor Zabih authored seven books on Iran, "The Mossadegh Era: Roots of Iranian Revolution," "The Iranian Military in Revolution and War," "The Communist Movement in Iran," "The Foreign Relations of Iran" (with S. Chubin), "Iran's Revolutionary Upheaval," "Iran Since the Revolution," and "The Left in Contemporary Iran." He was a visiting scholar at Stanford's Hoover Institution in 1983, and at Harvard's Center for Middle Eastern Studies in 1986. He also held fellowships from the Ford Foundation and from the Brookings Institution.

Politics professor David Alvarez said Professor Zabih's scholarly research helped Saint Mary's gain more renown in the broader academic world. "Sepehr developed an international reputation for his research on Iranian politics and raised the visibility of the College."

During his long tenure as chair of the Government Department, Professor Zabih encouraged junior faculty to pursue research and writing, Alvarez said.
"It is important to recall that there was a time when the College provided relatively little support for professional and scholarly activities, and Sepehr worked hard to get the administration to provide such support. He was also very active in organizing lectures and panel discussions on campus that introduced students to leading political scientists. He set a standard for scholarly activity and achievement that continues to guide the department to this day."

Brother Mel, who knew Professor Zabih for 28 years, remembers him as "a soft-spoken gentleman, thoughtful and always seeking common ground."

Sepehr Zabih is survived by his wife, Joan, daughter Leyla, son Ramin and by five siblings and their families. A memorial service will be held at Saint Mary's College Chapel, 1928 St. Mary's Road, Moraga, on Sunday, July 26 from 5:30 p.m.-7 p.m. The memorial service will be followed by a celebration of life in Brousseau Hall from 7-8:30 pm.

In lieu of flowers, the family greatly appreciates gifts in memory of Sepehr Zabih to Saint Mary's College, attention: Trina Planchon, P.O. Box 4300, Moraga, CA 94575.

-- Michael McAlpin

Office of College Communications