July 20, 2024

Emile Lester

Emile Lester, assistant professor of political science and international affairs, wrote a March 21 guest blog post for the Washington Post about whether religion can be taught in public schools. He finds hope for improving civil discourse on religion through an innovative course offered in the Modesto, Calif., public school system. Check out Lester’s blog post at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/political-bookworm/post/a-path-to-religion-in-the-classroom/2011/03/08/ABwNKy7_blog.html.

In addition, Lester has the forthcoming book “Teaching about Religions: A Democratic Approach for Public Schools,” which is due for release soon by the University of Michigan Press. Visit  http://press.umich.edu/titleDetailDesc.do;jsessionid=96706B2E5A1D7240FDFF52E73627E189?id=2180004 to learn more.

The publisher’s summary of Lester’s book says, “Frequent news stories about the debates waged between secularists and religious conservatives have convinced most Americans that public schools must choose between promoting respect for religious minorities and respecting the interests of conservative Christians. As a result, public schools fail to teach students about the meaning and value of protecting religious liberty and consequently perpetuate mistrust across the cultural divide, further empower extremists, and obscure the fact that most Americans of all religious backgrounds share a commitment to basic democratic principles.”

“In response, the public schools in the religiously diverse and divided community of Modesto, California, have introduced a widely acclaimed required world religions course. Drawing on groundbreaking research on the creation of and response to the Modesto course as well as on political philosophy, Emile Lester advocates a civic approach to teaching about religion in public schools that at once emphasizes respect for all views about religion and provides a special recognition of conservative Christian beliefs.”

Charles C. Haynes, the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center senior scholar, writes in an endorsement, “This provocative and timely book challenges Americans to rethink what it means to take democracy and religious freedom seriously in public education. Emile Lester takes the reader beyond culture war conflicts rooted in religious divisions and offers bold, new solutions for addressing our differences with fairness and robust toleration. Instead of battlegrounds, he argues, public schools can and should be places that include all voices in ways that prepare citizens to engage one another with civility and respect. “Teaching about Religions” is essential reading for all who care about the future of public schools—and the health of American democracy.”

About Brynn Boyer

Brynn Boyer is assistant director of media and public relations and a 2010 graduate of UMW.


  1. There has become an almost fear of teaching in religion in public schools. Although the roots of religious faith should start at home, it may be beneficial to teach religious diversity and how it applies to a student’s existing beliefs.