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Learning about World Religions in Modesto, California: The Promise of Teaching Tolerance in Public Schools

  • Emile Lester (a1) and Patrick S. Roberts (a2)

After cultural and religious controversy in Modesto, California, community leaders attempted to increase tolerance and respect by requiring an unique world religions course for high school students. The first large-n empirical study of the effect of teaching about religion in public schools indicates that students taking the course showed statistically significant increases in passive tolerance, their willingness to refrain from discriminatory behavior, and active respect, the willingness to take action to counter discrimination. This research documents the circumstances that gave rise to the course and evaluates the course's effects using qualitative and quantitative evidence. It also connects the course to a larger research tradition in political science on the effects of civic education programs that promote liberal, democratic values.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Emile Lester, University of Mary Washington, 1301 College Avenue, Frederickburg, VA 22401. E-mail:; or to Patrick S. Roberts, Virginia Tech, Center for Public Administration and Policy, 104 Draper Road, Blackburg, VA 24061. E-mail:
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Politics and Religion
  • ISSN: 1755-0483
  • EISSN: 1755-0491
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