Emile Lester, Professor of Political Science, earned a Ph.D. (2000) in government and foreign affairs from the University of Virginia, an M.S. (1996) in political theory from the London School of Economics, and a B.A. (1995) in government from George Washington University. He specializes in church and state issues with particular focus on controversies surrounding the teaching of religion in schools, research on tolerance of vulnerable minority groups, and liberal and conservative political philosophy.
Working with Dr. Patrick Roberts at Virginia Tech, Dr. Lester has engaged in empirical research to determine effects of the unique Modesto, Calif., public school requirement that all high school students take an extended course on world religions. His report, published by the First Amendment Center, finds support that this knowledge breeds support for the rights of others, provides a fuller appreciation for shared moral values among world religions, and does not encourage a change in the students’ own religious convictions. This research has received the attention of The New York Times, C-SPAN, and USA Today, National Public Radio, and Voice of America. He has been interviewed about his research on Virginia Public Radio’s With Good Reason and on New York City talk radio. In addition, Dr. Lester served on the Newseum panel, “Does GOD Make a Difference? Taking religion seriously in schools and universities” and was a featured panelist at the “God in American National Symposium on Religious Literary” hosted by PBS and the Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life. He also participated in a national symposium “Public Schools, Religion, and the First Amendment” in New York to promote conversation on how public schools, religion, and the First Amendment intersect.
He is the author of Teaching About Religions: A Democratic Approach for Public Schools (2011), which recently was featured on the Washington Post’s book review website.
He also has had works published in The Review of Politics, Polity, and The Journal of Church and State among other journals. Most recently, the article he co-wrote “Learning About World Religions in Modesto, California: The Promise of Teaching Tolerance in Public Schools” was published by Politics and Religion. In addition, his articles “The Examined Life” and “Deweyan Democracy and Religious Education” were published in Religion and Education, for which he was appointed to the editorial board (2011). He has given numerous conference presentations and has served as reviewer of manuscripts for Political Theory and the Journal of Politics. Dr. Lester previously taught at the College of William and Mary and was identified by the 2005 Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s College Guide as one of the best professors at the college.