Reductionism is the attempt to break complex things down to their basic elements. In essence, it is an attempt to simplify and understand large things by understanding the smaller things of which the large things are composed. While often helpful, it might sometimes happen that by reducing things to one or two constituent parts, we omit something that is truly important along the way.
Read the article on reductionism on Wikipedia. The article mentions that some scholars apply reductionism to biology and come to the conclusion that our thoughts, feelings and emotions are simply physical chemical processes that are going on within our bodies. The conclusion is that we are simply mechanisms. What is more, many of these scientists conclude that our sense of consciousness and freewill are illusions since all our choices are determined by the physical systems of our bodies. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
Read the following article:
Are we just physical beings or do we have a soul?
With all of this background, write a two-page essay about how reductionism would apply to the study of religion. Do you see that just as scholars have a difficult time studying concepts like the soul and freewill, so too would they have a hard time studying spirits, gods and God? In class, we viewed a video in which Huston Smith describes his own approach to studying religion. Do you think he avoids reductionism? Taking into account all that you have learned, which of all the approaches do you feel is best and why?