Religion is a set of observable practices that have been called “the world’s most widespread and pervasive social institutions.” It is the “family” to which, as it were, many human phenomena belong. Those phenomena have certain family traits, which are often called “religious properties,” or “religio.” The more a phenomenon displays these characteristics, the more likely it is to be classified as religious.
Among the most prominent of these are a sense of dependence on and a hope for Divine help. The recognition of dependency calls forth a desire to worship the free, supernatural Being (or deities) on whom it depends. It engenders the conviction that such worship, in fact, satisfies the soul, and makes man worthy of divine love and happiness.
A similar feature is a sense of communality that produces a concern for the welfare of others and a feeling of obligation to perform certain acts of homage, often involving sacrifices. A third characteristic is a sense of sanctity, that is, a reverence for certain persons and places. This respect may be based on a sense of God’s presence and of the sacredness of His creation, or on the memory of a person who is considered to be a saint.
In addition to these three features, religions typically have a set of rules for behavior and a system of values that is taught to children and young people. The practice of religion improves health, education, economic well-being, self-control, and empathy, and reduces the incidence of social pathologies such as out-of-wedlock births, crime, illegitimate marriages, addictions, and mental illnesses.