In "Families," what effect does Jane Howard achieve by making religious references?
Jane Howard was born into a Jewish family, and her work in sociology gave her a unique insight into the sociological impact of religion on the family. In her essay "Families," she gives examples of religion acting as a glue to hold the structure of the family together:
Good families prize their rituals. Nothing welds a family more than these... No line in the Seder service at Passover reassures more than the last: "Next year in Jerusalem!" A clan becomes more of a clan each time it gathers to observe a fixed ritual....
(Howard, "Families," cyc-net.org)
Since families tend to gravitate towards the same religions and rituals, Howard shows how her own feeling of "belonging" is based partly in her religious upbringing. By connecting with a family -- biological or adopted -- in religious terms, one makes a strong connection to their past and future. Every connection made this way will remain with the member, as religion (outside of science) tends to root itself in the mind and remain long after physical or material connections have been severed.