Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


Relational Communication about Religious Differences among In- Laws: A Case Study about the Quality and Health of In-Law Relationships in Orthodox Christian Families

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Media and Communication

First Advisor

Sandra Faulkner

Second Advisor

Judy Adams (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Lynda Dixon (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Laura Martin Lengel (Committee Member)


This dissertation explores relational communication of in-laws in multi-religious families of American Orthodox Christians and represents an interpretive analysis of collected personal narratives. These narratives describe American Orthodox Christian identity in in-law relationships that is directly tied to ethnic identity. Thus, the presented research is built on the findings about multi-religious and multiethnic family relationships in the fields of relational communication, family therapy, and religious studies. I argue that religion and ethnicity are fundamental bases for the formation of family identity and family culture. Therefore, this dissertation focuses on how religious differences impact the relational health and quality of communication among the in- laws. The theoretical framework of the study is Relational Dialectic Theory; I focus on its two major premises: (1) relationships are products of cultures in which they develop and (2) the broader cultures offer a variety of meanings that we attach to our relationships, many of them are oppositional to each other. To explain relational dialectics in in-law relationships, I used the concept family culture and adopted the critical perspective on acculturation. I argue that there exists a natural connection between acculturation and relational dialectical tensions: people find themselves in constant push towards and pull away from a non-native family culture. (For example, identified in my research dialectical tensions of integration & separation, closedness & openness, which constitute discursive oppositions of wanting to preserve old family culture & wanting to develop independent new family culture and stigmatized & stigmatizing Orthodox identity, provide support for my argument.) The combination of these theoretical frameworks allowed me to offer another perspective on existing research of in-law relationships. Particularly, I provide a critique to Morr Serewicz & in-law love triangle and argue that it is an amorphous structure in which the composition of its relationships perpetually changes in the relational contexts defined by constantly fluctuating dialectical tensions. In addition, this dissertation focuses on the intersections of religious, ethnic, and gender identities in in-law relationships. The attention to these intersections helped to reveal that the meanings participants attach to their faith are influenced by the larger political discourses about ethnicity, faith, and gender.