Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Druze

The Druze are a genetically distinct community in Israel, notable for their high level of distinction among local minority groups and secretive religion. Many aspects of the Druze are fascinating, from their blend of traditional monotheistic traditions (Druze religion is a combination of Judaism, Christianity and Islam) to their close-knit social policies. Druze women very rarely marry outside of the Druze population, normally wedding to cousins from different continents. The population is global, and while the most prominent areas are in and around Israel, Lebanon and Syria, there are smaller groups located all over the world. This high level of genetic diversity coupled with rare marriage to non-Druze would normally spell doom for the gene pool, but in this case it has actually served  to preserve ancient gene codes as well as create radically diverse DNA chains.

Druze Religious Leaders
Druze religious leaders
 The original Druze populations descended either from ancient Jewish tribes or local populations of native middle easterners who converted, as well as other groups that were integrated later as the populations split apart and migrated. However, the intermarriage policies of the Druze have led the mitochondrial DNA to be preserved within a single, closed gene pool. Women who intermarry with non-Druze can be exiled from Druze lands, never to return, effectively removing them from diluting the chains with outside genetic influences. Of course, modern day members often disregard this aspect of the religion, but thanks to long-held traditions it will still be generations before any significant reduction in diversity begins to show.

Family groups 2 and 3 are Arab, while 1 is Druze. Note the number of unique sequences.

In fact, the long-guarded genetics of the Druze may be working to their advantage. Relatively recent scientific discoveries have charted evolutionary forward-thinking changes in brain size in Druze that match historical patterns, but occurring at a much faster rate and with a much higher degree of appearance. For science it means that humanity as a whole is looking at continued development of the brain, but for the Druze it means that through their social hierarchies and religious misgivings (the intermarriage laws arose due to persecution by Christians and Muslims) they may have stumbled upon a key to more rapid steps in the evolutionary chain. An incredible discovery, to be sure.

Wedding Day
Druze woman on her wedding day. This wedding was unique in that it was televised and to a non-Druze man.

One of the reasons that the Druze were (and largely still are) able to maintain these policies is that they have been recognized as a separate religious entity, complete with their own courts, jurisdiction and spiritual leadership that is wildly distinct from other Israelis. Despite being under two million strong worldwide, the Druze are held in incredibly high regard, often attaining leadership positions and high ranking government and religious jobs. Their numbers increase very slowly because they do not accept converts and the aforementioned policy on outside marriage, which contributes to their centralized power base. Additionally, women have attained a high degree of respect in Druze society. They are often regarded much more highly then men, noted for their greater degree of spiritual preparation and even handed decision making.

The sources noted above are, for the most part, trustworthy. The article on Druze genes and ancient migration patterns comes from the Jewish Daily Forward, a global e-publication that covers Jewish community issues and the like. It's a trustworthy source and, considering the subject matter, has no reason to exaggerate any claims about the particular focus of the article. The gene pool article is from a noted research publication called Science daily, which has its integrity as a research paper on the line in the case that anything proved less than factual. The article entitled "Ongoing Adaptive Evolution of ASPM" is a research dissertation from the University of Chicago's genetics department, which suggests that it's easily the most trustworthy source invoked here. The Jewish virtual library revels in Jewish historical facts, so the article plumbed from its thousands of documents may contain some sensational history or residual long-windedness, but nothing notable askew with any hard facts about population growth. However, Mandragora in a UK-based procurer of documents related to the occult and metaphysics, which suggests that its articles are actively sensationalized for the sake of camp and sales. However, considering that this is one of the more mundane resources on the site (others include invoking dragon spirits and speaking telepathically to plants) it is likely mostly factual, though the research could easily be faulty.

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