- Date: 14th century
Apostasy (pronounced /əˈpɒstəsi/) is the formal religious disaffiliation, abandonment, or renunciation of one's religion, especially if the motive is deemed unworthy. In a technical sense, as used sometimes by sociologists without the pejorative connotations of the word, the term refers to renunciation and criticism of, or opposition to, one's former religion. One who commits apostasy is an apostate, or one who apostatizes. The word derives from Greek αποστασία (apostasia), meaning a defection or revolt, from απο, apo, "away, apart", στάσις, stasis, "stand", "standing". The term is sometimes also used to refer to renunciation of a belief or cause by (generally facetious) extension of the religious connotation, such as in reference to a political party or a sports team.
Apostasy is generally not a self-definition: very few former believers call themselves apostates and they generally consider this term to be a pejorative. Many religious movements consider it a vice (sin), a corruption of the virtue of piety in the sense that when piety fails, apostasy is the result. Unlike apostasy, heresy is the rejection or corruption of certain doctrines, not the complete abandonment of one's religion. Heretics claim to still be following a religion (or even to be the "true believers"), whereas apostates reject it entirely.
Many religious groups and some states punish apostates. Apostates may be shunned by the members of their former religious group or worse. This may be the official policy of the religious group or may happen spontaneously. A church may in certain circumstances respond to apostasy by excommunicating the apostate, while some Abrahamic scriptures (Judaism: Deuteronomy 13:6-10) and Islam: al-Bukhari, Diyat, bab 6) demand the death penalty for apostates, although capital punishment for any offense is no longer permitted under Judaism.
The American sociologist Lewis A. Coser (following the German philosopher and sociologist Max Scheler) holds an apostate to be not just a person who experienced a dramatic change in conviction but “a man who, even in his new state of belief, is spiritually living not primarily in the content of that faith, in the pursuit of goals appropriate to it, but only in the struggle against the old faith and for the sake of its negation."
The American sociologist David G. Bromley] defined the apostate role as follows and distinguished it from the defector and whistleblower roles.
- Apostate role: defined as one that occurs in a highly polarized situation in which an organization member undertakes a total change of loyalties by allying with one or more elements of an oppositional coalition without the consent or control of the organization. The narrative is one which documents the quintessentially evil essence of the apostate's former organization chronicled through the apostate's personal experience of capture and ultimate escape/rescue.
- Defector role: an organizational participant negotiates exit primarily with organizational authorities, who grant permission for role relinquishment, control the exit process, and facilitate role transmission. The jointly constructed narrative assigns primary moral responsibility for role performance problems to the departing member and interprets organizational permission as commitment to extraordinary moral standards and preservation of public trust.
- Whistleblower role: defined here as one in which an organization member forms an alliance with an external regulatory unit through offering personal testimony concerning specific, contested organizational practices that is then used to sanction the organization. The narrative constructed jointly by the whistleblower and regulatory agency is one which depicts the whistleblower as motivated by personal conscience and the organization by defense of public interest.
Stuart A. Wright, an American sociologist and author, asserts that apostasy is a unique phenomenon and a distinct type of religious defection, in which the apostate is a defector "who is aligned with an oppositional coalition in an effort to broaden the dispute, and embraces public claimsmaking activities to attack his or her former group."