Peter Carl Sederberg

Died: Fri., Jul. 31, 2020

Graveside Service

2:00 PM Tue., Aug. 04, 2020
Location: Honey Creek Woodlands

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Music by The Piano Brothers

Peter Carl Sederberg of Atlanta, GA, originally of Minneapolis, MN, with a significant layover in Columbia, SC, died peacefully and surrounded by his loving family on July 31, 2020, from complications of Alzheimer's disease.


Born in Minneapolis, MN, Peter and his older sister Kathryn Marie were raised by their mother, Gertrude Helen Pontius Sederberg, after their father, Carl Ellsworth Sederberg, passed away suddenly when Peter was 2 years old. Peter would often tell stories of their loving family life in their little house, despite the hard times. His mother encouraged his playful imagination and his intellectual appetite, even ordering treasured copies of The Lord of the Rings from England. He spent his early years reading and adventuring with Kathryn and exploring their neighborhood near the Minnehaha creek. In seventh grade, he met Louie Burns, who would quickly become his best friend and co-conspirator. They made trouble at their Catholic school and summer camp, took long hikes, played poker, and went on several trips, including a bus ride from Minneapolis to New York City and Washington, D.C. They also founded the Southwest Minneapolis Rocket and High Explosives Club and innovated the construction of fireworks from matchstick heads and abandoned railroad flares.


Throughout his life, Peter was a voracious reader, consuming both fiction and non-fiction. He had a particular love of fantasy and science fiction, epic poetry (like The Odyssey, A Modern Sequel, which he would later record himself reading), and historical fiction and nonfiction. He also had a love for cinema, which he categorized into films, movies, and flicks, each with their place and intrinsic value.


Having graduated from De La Salle High School in Minneapolis in 1961, Peter attended the “state center for atheism and communism” (his words), the University of Minnesota. He excelled in his studies being inducted into Phi Beta Kappa in his senior year, 1965. As an economics major, he became fascinated by the economies of developing countries. He soon realized the necessity of interdisciplinarity and began to explore anthropology, sociology, and political science. His passion for politics extended outside the classroom as well, as he organized a protest in 1965 on the steps of the university student center. He also met one of the great mentors of his life, Mulford Q. Sibley, a gentle political theory professor who emanated moral integrity and tolerance and who introduced him to Quakerism. After Louie died from a brain tumor during their senior year of college, Peter, a devout Catholic, had grown disillusioned with his church and especially the doctrine repeated to him throughout childhood that Louie, as a lapsed Catholic, would go to hell. As he later wrote, “I thought that if I could love someone, whatever his failings, could God do any less? In this sense, we are saved by others' love and, in turn, our love saves them.” Peter would practice Quakerism for the rest of his life.


Encouraged by Sibley and driven to study politics by the escalating war in Vietnam, Peter joined the political science doctoral program at The Johns Hopkins University. He completed his coursework in record time and travelled to Ghana with his first wife, Nancy Belcher Sederberg, to conduct research for his dissertation. He spent 1968 working in Ghanian archives and watching as the discord at other universities around the world came to the University of Ghana. In late December 1968, he and Nancy journeyed home on a cocoa boat. He would return to various African countries three more times throughout his career. After completing this work, he earned his PhD in February 1970. He proudly wore Johns Hopkins’ golden robes to graduations throughout his career, even correcting those who referred to them as yellow.


Peter joined the faculty at Wellesley College as an instructor in fall 1969. Inspired by the rebellions taking place at campuses around the world, students began to complain about their staid educational experience and their isolation from this wave of activism. He and a colleague, H. Jon Rosenbaum, supported these students in their composition of “Renaissance 1970,” a manifesto calling for more engaged educational experiences. Peter and Jon found themselves scapegoated for encouraging student unrest, and their faculty contracts were not renewed. Jon would later comment that Peter must have been the inspiration for the movie, Mona Lisa Smile (2003), starring Julia Roberts.


In fall 1971, Peter found a more permanent home in the Government and International Studies (GINT) department at the University of South Carolina. He began teaching courses in the areas where he received formal training, especially comparative politics, political theory, and African politics. With time, however, he moved toward emerging interests, like revolution and political violence, the threat of nuclear war, and global security. He liked to describe himself as an intellectual fox, in the understanding of Isaiah Berlin: someone who liked to dig in many different fields, as opposed to a more focused scholarly hedgehog. He also met the next great mentor of his life, Morse Peckham. Nominally, he was a professor in the Department of English, but in fact he was a truly inspired “foxy hedgehog,” who knew a great deal about a great number of things, including music, literature, art, science, history, and philosophy. He inspired Peter to embrace this aspect of his own intellect and scholarship.


Peter’s scholarly works reflected his interest in political philosophy, especially The Politics of Meaning: Power and Explanation in the Construction of Social Reality (1984). In numerous articles, he also examined the conduct of inquiry and the intersection of literature and the study of politics, a productive intersection of his scholarship and his passion for literary works. Beyond his work in Ghana, he conducted area research in Somalia and South Africa and published general works on the subjects of comparative politics and political change, including a co-authored piece on “Black Education and the Politics of Transformation in South Africa” (1990). He also examined the problem of political violence and political change, beginning with the edited volume, Vigilante Politics (1976). His last books also dealt with this topic: Terrorist Myths: Illusion, Rhetoric, and Reality (1989) and Fires Within: Political Violence and Revolutionary Change (1994).


Peter would later identify two themes linking this diverse body of scholarship. The first concerned different ways of knowing, particularly how we know and communicate what we know about the social world and especially the problem of political violence. The second theme, and partly related to the first, involved ways of thinking about the political change and the future.


Perhaps due to his work on political violence, terrorism, and nuclear war, he was a lifetime champion for peace. He attended marches in Washington D.C. and organized protests back home in Columbia. After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, he was a steady presence at weekly peace vigils at the South Carolina state capitol building.


Lest it seem like he was all about his work, Peter maintained his desire for fun from his childhood. He was the star pitcher for the GINT departmental softball team named Leviathan, which declared themselves brutish, but not short (Peter was 6'3"). He would also hold rock 'n' roll parties at his house, blasting music from the likes of Meatloaf, Bruce Springsteen, Buddy Holly, and the Talking Heads, and clearing out his living room so it could act as a dance floor. An excellent cook, he reveled in the creativity of both quotidian meals and special occasion feasts with friends and family. (He may have also been the first and last volunteer cook to use wine in the tomato sauce for his son's elementary school's annual spaghetti dinner.) He also was known for his wit and often macabre sense of humor, like when he relished discussing the tactical genius of General William T. Sherman at dinner parties in Columbia and Atlanta.


In a process that would define his career and legacy, Peter helped foster the creation and growth of the Honors College at USC. He described honors education as the golden strand that wove through his academic history. In 1974, he joined a small committee charged with developing a proposal for an “Honors College” that would create its own degree program. Few such initiatives existed at the time. He embraced the opportunity to design an initiative that under his deanship would become the highest ranked public honors college in the country. This was due in no small part to Peter's advocacy of the power of the liberal arts, interdisciplinarity, and research-based learning, an educational approach he championed long before its widespread adoption across academic circles. After fostering the growth of the program with his friend and colleague William A. Mould, he became dean in 1994. He served in this position until 2005, presiding over a period of what he called “quantitative growth and qualitative enhancement.”


Peter would describe the foundations of the Honors College in his last lecture as dean: “The first formal step was taken with the development of research-based learning, which started in the sciences and spread to the other areas of liberal education. We aimed to transcend the normal institutional dichotomies between graduate and undergraduate education; between the instructional and research missions of the university; and between the mastery and the creation of substance in a discipline. Indeed, engagement with the creation of knowledge fosters and reinforces mastery.


“In the College we were able to draw from the most dynamic faculty in the University to create a new model of a liberal education that would move students beyond the apprenticeship model to the active creation of knowledge through research and scholarship or the active engagement with the arts. [...] ‘Learning’ as the core purpose of the university distinguishes this institution from the purposes of the state (power); church (faith); or corporation (profit). Learning depends on the institutionalization of continuous critique. Faith, power and profit often shut down critical discourse. In the open arenas of learning, the dialogue never ends.”


While devoted to his scholarship and his flock at USC, he was equally devoted to his family. After sharing transatlantic journeys, cross-country moves, the purchase of their family home, and the birth of their son, Per, he and Nancy separated in 1981. Together they demonstrated that care and friendship were still possible in divorce as they prioritized the health and happiness of their child.


Peter met the love of his life, Janice Love, in 1982. Jan had just arrived as a new professor in the GINT department. Her love for Peter overcame her skepticism of the historically patriarchal institution of marriage, and they legally joined in 1984. Their sharp minds complemented one another, and they collaborated on professional and intellectual endeavors, including editing each other’s work. (As Jan would say, “I made him more readable, and he made me more precise.”) They supported each other’s careers and maintained their strong bond even over long distances, as Jan’s work took her around the world, to reside in New York City, and eventually to be dean of Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. Having retired from USC, Peter became the provost’s special assistant for undergraduate educational initiatives at Emory, and they made a new home. They modelled for their children the deep passion and respect of a loving and equal partnership.


Although he grew up without a father, Peter was full of paternal support and devotion for his two children, Per Benjamin Sederberg (1974) and Rachel Elin Love (1987). He would joke that having children so far apart meant that he would be raising them for thirty-one years, but he relished the challenge. He made each of them feel like the center of his universe, and people knew to expect tales of their achievements whenever they caught up with him. He spent countless hours reading to Per and then Rachel at bedtime, first children’s books and then novels like Lord of the Rings, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and even Catch-22. His plan backfired, as they strained to stay awake so he would read more and stay with them.


Per grew up with a tireless energy and creativity that another father might have stifled. Peter, understanding that this energy went hand-in-hand with a joyful intelligence, encouraged both to blossom. Rachel likewise from a young age felt drawn to creating her own fantasy worlds with dragons and talking wolves, and he gently fostered her love of stories and the courage to write her own. He made them feel safe and cared for during challenging times, including Rachel’s long illness in early adolescence. Some intergenerational translation of his love, intellect, and caustic wit created two similarly joyful and nerdy weirdos who love one another as much as they do their father.


All this devotion and encouragement helped instill in his children a love of learning. Per attended the University of Virginia and later received a PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Pennsylvania, while Rachel attended Smith College and later received a PhD in Italian Studies from New York University. Throughout her years in college and graduate school, she would send her papers to him for feedback. He also taught them to be citizens of the world, which they travelled together. Memorable journeys, for research and pleasure, include trips to Somalia, South Africa, Kenya, Italy, and, in 2017, Yellowstone, with Per’s wife and children.


His family’s hearts broke when Peter was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in July 2013. As he wrote in his announcement to his family and friends, “I have long possessed an ironic view of the human condition, so it is fitting and, if you believe in an ironic deity, just that the capabilities of which I am most proud are the ones I am losing.” They all grieved to lose slowly such a sharp, witty, and loving mind. As long as he could, he continued to challenge himself with abundant reading (both serious and frivolous), political activity, volunteer work for the Atlanta Friends Meeting, long walks with his dogs (first Josh and then Lena), and writing his memoirs.


In late July, as Peter began to deteriorate more severely, Per and Rachel decided to make the journey from Charlottesville and Brooklyn, respectively, to be close to Peter during a week that had been previously reserved for a Love-Sederberg family vacation in the mountains of North Carolina. They think that he may have been waiting for them because he passed away six days after their arrival.  In a time of incalculable and lonely suffering and death around the world, Jan, Rachel, and Per are immensely grateful that Peter died surrounded by his family (including his loyal dog, Lena) and cradled in love.


Peter is survived by his wife Jan Love, their daughter Rachel Love, and his son by his first marriage Per Sederberg, and his wife Laurel Megan Feigley, who are parents to his granddaughter Isla Magnolia Sederberg and grandson Leif August Sederberg.


Arrangements are being handled by Phoenix Funeral Services, Conyers, Georgia. He will be buried at Honey Creek Woodlands at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit.


Donations in his name may be made to The Peter C. Sederberg Endowed Scholarship Fund, South Carolina Honors College, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC.


“All things like frail mist scattered till but one brave cry

for a brief moment hung in the calm benighted waters:

‘Forward, my lads, sail on, for Death’s breeze blows in a fair wind!’”

-Nikos Kazantzakis, The Odyssey, A Modern Sequel

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Kathryn McMaken
   Posted Sat August 01, 2020

Hydrangea Plant was sent by Kathy, Michelle, Bren and Allyson.

We send you hugs and wish so much we could be with you at this time. Peter's obituary is a fitting and beautiful tribute to a remarkable man, husband and father.

Patti Marinelli
   Posted Sun August 09, 2020
I remember Dr. Sederberg as Dean of the Honors College and as a man of great intellect and dignity. My condolences to his family on his passing.

James Burns
   Posted Sun August 09, 2020
Peter wrote a memoir "Louie!Louie" 9/26/90 I was just reading him recall a song from a dream he had about my brother "Try to Remember" from the Fantastiks. Try to remember the when life was so tender.When no one wept except the willow.Try to remember when life was so tender.When dreams were kept beside your pillow.Try to remember when life was so tender. That love was an ember about to billow.Try to remember and if you remember.Then follow... Anyone who had a friend like Pete Sederberg was a lucky person.I am so sad to hear of Peter's death but am left with wonderful memories of that my brother Louie and Peter.

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