• One who disavows a previously held belief or association.


  • Contrary to a religious or political doctrine.


Political parties derive strength by putting as many of their party's members in power as possible. But in order for them to take advantage of their numerical advantage, parties must ensure that their members share a core set of principles in order to act with one will. Because of this need for unity, the most threatening thing to a party is a member who stands up and insists on a radical departure from established beliefs. In order to bring individuals like this into line, parties reserve a word to brand them as a defector: apostate.

The word apostate describes a radical departure from the established tenets of an organization. While the term usually pertains to heretical attitudes toward religious or political bodies, apostate can be used to show a challenge to any organization with a rigid set of compulsory or accepted ideals. As a noun, apostate refers specifically to a person who stands in opposition to one or more of their group's core doctrines. On the other hand, its adjective form can describe both a person who holds obstinate beliefs toward their organization and the contrarian beliefs themselves. In other words, a person can be an apostate toward the group, or they (or their ideas) can be apostate to that group.

Apostate refers to a total deviation from core doctrine in a group. To be apostate is not simply to engage in unorthodox or unusual practices, but to advocate a radical departure from the characteristics that define an organization's purpose. It also implies a condemnation of, or generally casts a negative light on, the dissenter: usually, the characterization of being apostate derives from the perspective of the larger group. An apostate is not viewed as a reformer or a revolutionary, but as a traitor or defector, and the larger group employs this term to pass judgment on the opposing voice. Of course, such dissidents believe themselves to hold the more virtuous or enlightened view than the larger organization, whether they choose to remain affiliated with the group or not. Either way, when difference in opinion gives rise to an apostate, no matter who it describes, serious disagreement is at hand.

Example: The apostate young congresswoman made a habit of vociferously criticizing her party's leaders on the Senate floor.

Example: The notion of a change in foreign policy was so apostate that no one dared to even bring up the idea at party meetings.


Apostate traces back to the Greek words apostasia, meaning "defection" or "insurrection," and apostases, which meant "an escaped slave," both of which come from "apostenai," which meant "to rebel." The prefix apo- translates to "away from," while the root stenai meant "to stand," giving apostenai the literal meaning of "to stand away." The original Greek form was adopted by Late Latin as apostata before emerging in Old French as apostate. The noun finally entered English in the mid-14th century to mean "a person who renounces their religion." The adjective form entered the lexicon by the end of that century.

Derivative Words

Apostasy: Though also a noun, apostasy is used to describe the actual act or belief that contradicts an organization.

Example: Though still viewed by Christianity as a whole as an apostasy, many denominations are softening their views on same-sex marriage.

Apostatic: Like its root word, this alternative adjective form of apostate also describes a person or thing as harboring a rebellious association toward the group that the person or thing belongs to. Unlike apostate, though, it can be used in a comparative way (i.e. in conjunction with "more" or "most") to illustrate degrees of deviation from the larger group's ideology.

Example: In symphony orchestras today, it is not as apostatic as it once was to play arrangements of pop or show-tunes to get new audiences in the door.

Apostatical: This adjective serves more or less the same function as apostatic. However, it does add somewhat more emphasis than apostatic and, thus, can be used to underscore a particularly deviant individual or belief.

Example: In Catholicism, to deny that the pope is infallible is almost as apostatical as denying the divinity of Jesus.

Apostatize: This verb form of apostate means to reject a core tenet of a political or religious group.

Example: By opposing a buildup of the military, the libertarians apostatize the pro-war stance of the larger Republican Party within which they operate.

Similar Words

Heretic: Like an apostate, a heretic is one whose beliefs go against the accepted, mainstream teachings of an organization. In addition to having a stronger association with religion, heretic differs from apostate in connotation in subtle but important ways. While an apostate merely holds views that contradict the orthodox, calling one a heretic implies that they not only hold contradictory views but actively preach and disseminate them. Another key distinction is that while an apostate may view themselves as embodying the true spirit of their organization, it is possible that they accept their divergence as significant enough to no longer consider themselves as belonging to it. With heretic, though, it is more often the case that the one described as such sees themselves as practicing the true intention of their faith. In other words, while an apostate can consider their views so different that they break off from their former affiliation, a heretic regards themselves as serving their group's mission so much more closely that they see their fellow, dissenting members as the heretics.

Example: Keith was branded a heretic in the office for refusing his standing desk in favor of a traditional seated one, insisting his way yielded more productivity.

In Literature

From Salman Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet:

Once the god-squaddie supreme, she was now possessed of the zeal of the apostate and came on like an atheistic stormtrooper.

In order to show how thoroughly the woman has changed her beliefs, Rushdie's narrator remarks that she transforms from once having a devout belief in her faith to having the passionate drive of the most radical apostate as she embraces atheism.


  • To be regarded as an apostate does not put you in a positive state.
  • In some organizations, it is not possible to be apostate and stay in the group.


Belief, Politics, Religion

Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of apostate. Did you use apostate in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.