Is trust a liminal space?

Is trust a liminal space?

How can our relationships with our Muslim friends, sisters and colleagues thrive and flourish? Can we understand the negotiations in these relationships, shaped by the necessity of building bridges across cultures, across religions, across worldviews, in different ways if we consider them to be active within a permanent liminal space? And how might this offer insights into the nature of the bond required in these relationships?

Liminal space refers to those in-between places or spaces, places of transition, borderlands. It includes renegotiations in the processes of navigating the everyday, fulfilling cultural or religious obligations, enacting life when traditions break down and boundaries are transgressed.

Wherever we build relationships with our Muslim neighbours, friends, sisters and colleagues, whether in their home context or ours, we, and they, find ourselves at the borders of our culture, religion and tradition. I want to suggest we can understand this as a liminal space. As we build relationships we are transitioning in new territory, unchartered waters, and must work out how to give and receive trust that is essential for meaningful relationships.

Trust can be transactional or transformational. Our emphasis in describing trust often focuses on the character and actions of the other. That describes a transactional foundation of trust. If the other person’s character gives me confidence in them, if they behave in ways that demonstrate that they are worthy of my trust, then I give it to them. For me, transformational trust involves the vulnerability of relationship, my willingness to embrace the risk of vulnerability in giving myself into the relationship.

Quoting Charles Feltman, Brene Brown says: “Trust is choosing to make something important to you vulnerable to the actions of someone else.”[1] That is a commitment to relationship and the transformational trust that I aspire to.

The vulnerability of trust that must be given as part of navigating threshold spaces, is what causes me to explore trust as a liminal space. Trust is a central dynamic in the way we cross cultural, social, religious and tradition boundaries. Trust is one way we reframe the dissonance of differences. It creates bridges transitioning into relationships of meaning and significance, relationships that give life.

Sara and I enjoyed each other’s company. She was a teacher in the college and I had responsibility for the hostels. We connected from time to time with the relationship mostly around what was happening in the college. One day Sara came to my room to ask me to reconsider something that had happened with one of her students who lived in the hostel. I laid the facts out to her as I had heard them, confident that I was maintaining the college standards.

Sara then said something to me that has been an ongoing challenge: you have the space to be so concrete in your understandings, we must negotiate the honour of our community, the relationships that are not just isolated inside these walls.

How could our emerging friendship blossom when we experienced the world so differently, even in the same location? What did trust look like between colleagues and friends when our worlds viewed it so differently?

Here are some of my lessons so far, but I have a long way to go in learning.

  • The vulnerability of trust across worldviews means learning to let go of my certainties about the whys of trust.
  • Trust in a worldview of community is first negotiated with the whole community, it is not an individual decision, though the dynamic of vulnerability remains.
  • Trust for our friends with us means finding ways of integrating the community and the individual within the dynamic of honour and belonging.
  • That in-between space where relationships of trust must be navigated becomes transformational. It cannot be contractual because the terms of engagement have deeply different worldview understandings of what concepts mean.
  • Social expectations are impacted by trust enacted as a place or act of liminality; trust moves the relationship and those of us in it from one social place of relating to another.
  • Trust is central to the relationship and helps reorient in the disorienting circumstances of difference.

My understanding of trust has been changing through encounters like those with Sara; and she says the same is true for her. I said at some training I was doing recently that, for me, trust is a decision to act that allows me to find ways of moving towards the other. It does have boundaries, but those boundaries are now a negotiated understanding of the worldview of those I reach out to and my worldview.

When Sara and I met a few months ago I saw afresh how my boundaries for safety on trust now included a community aspect. Sara’s actions were not judged for their individual importance with regards to trust. I saw them as part of community relationships.

[1] Brown, Brene, Dare to lead. Kindle edition. p222

(c) When Women Speak … January 2023

CH spent more than three decades in South Asia and the Middle East working in education, community development and the Church. Her research has included women’s activism and social change in South Asia, violence against women and missiology. She is currently focussed on developing new streams of ministry among women who live under Islam and enabling women academics and practitioners to shape missiology and mission practice. She holds a PhD in Gender Studies (Australian National University).

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