Raphael is a political anthropologist of urban India with degrees in political science, area studies and a PhD in sociology / social anthropology. Before joining the Department of Methodology at LSE, he worked as Lecturer in Social Anthropology & Development Studies at King's College London, postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Göttingen and associate of the Contemporary South Asia Studies Program in Oxford. Beyond his role at LSE, he serves as reviews editor of Contemporary South Asia and associate editor of the Journal of South Asian Development. He is also a local rep and caseworker for the University and College Union and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, the UK’s formal teaching qualification and recognition programme.
While Raphael's current role is focused on teaching and educational leadership, his take on methodology is based in over a decade of mixed-method and ethnographic research experience. He studied religious politics, the political economy of corruption, masculine aspirations and urban belonging in North India, building on ethnographic, statistical and spatial data generated in long-term fieldwork among the country's large and diverse Muslim population. Much of his ethnography was based in the city of Lucknow, often seen as a 'space with too much history' (as explored together with historians in a special issue of SAMAJ co-edited with Chris Taylor). He has also written research software, curated a comprehensive public repository of statistics on religion and politics in India based on electoral data and contributed to open data initiatives.
While much work on religion and politics in India aims to understand Hindu-Muslim riots, engineered by politicians who exploit communal prejudice for electoral gain, and in the process tends to treat Muslim Indians as a monolithic block, Raphael's ethnographic research pays closer attention to religio-political dynamics within religious communities and asks how these intersect with growing aspirations for 'development'. His monograph on ambivalence and ambiguity in Gujarat for instance studied the production of peace (rather than violence) by showing how both developmentalist and faith-based activists link political protest to religious ideas and communal belonging in a post-conflict setting.
Through subsequent mixed method publications, he then revealed the fallability of instrumental calculations in fluid religio-political contexts and demonstrated how Muslims' electoral choices mirror those of non-Muslims, varying across time and space in response to local demography and political history (with Raheel Dhattiwala). He intervened in the heated debate on Muslim 'ghettos' in Indian cities, arguing that these are not necessarily the straightforward product of communal violence - as has been assumed so far - but that financial and social pull factors equally contribute to residential clustering. To support this view, Raphael demonstrated how a socially segmented bureaucracy structures the political economy of urban development and how certain kinds of local knowledge determine how built reality is perceived, navigated and marked as 'ghettoized' irrespective of actual degrees of segregation. Most recently he argued that iconic infrastructure can bring fragmented publics together against all odds - in part by interviewing a true ghost - and wrote about the looping micro-mobilities of young men who feel stuck, demonstrating how these can impact their sense of belonging just as much as long-distance migration.
From 2021 to 2023, Raphael was Co-Investigator on a large network grant on 'Muslims in a time of Hindu majoritarianism' funded by the Luce Foundation (PIs Christophe Jaffrelot and Bernard Haykel). I led the 'ghettoization' cluster with six team members across India to further investigate Muslims' spatial politics through a multi-sited and digital ethnography of resistance, adaptation and co-option. A first special issue from this work - on 'the rule(s) of law under Hindutva' - is forthcoming in Social & Legal Studies (with Sudhir Selvaraj); a second special issue on spatial politics (with Shrey Kapoor) is in preparation.
Raphael's overarching aim is to lift the study of Muslim South Asia, which has long been caught in ideological readings and a partition- or at least violence-centric perspective, to the same level of conceptual as well as, crucially, methodological sophistication that characterizes the study of non-Muslim sociality. In the long run, studying how Muslim Indians navigate wider social change within the context of the world's largest secular democracy - though one sliding steadily into majoritarian rule - should also help to rebut persistent claims of Muslim exceptionalism in global academic as well as popular discourse.