By 1850, England was at the height of its power. It was in possession of the largest empire the world had ever seen, and its industrial and manufacturing sectors had developed to a point at which they could change the global economy. Thus, the question of religious and ethnic diversity in Britain during this time is incomplete (in fact, it is utterly incomprehensible) without analysis of its colonial diversity.
In Britain proper (that is, the British Isles), the dominant religion was the Church of England, which practiced a conservative form of Protestantism. Some legislation had relaxed the barriers faced by religious minorities, such as Catholics and Methodists, into the Church community by 1850. The composition of both the clergy and the laity had become more heterogenous. In addition, increasing religious tolerance in the Victorian era led to a rise in the numbers of Jews, Quakers, Orthodox, and other religious practitioners. Ethnically, the British Isles of the mid-nineteenth century were incredibly diverse. The main ethnic groups were the English, Scotts, Welsh, Irish, and others of white background or ancestry.
Britain’s religious and ethnic makeup was unimaginably complex at the height of its global empire, and any attempt to systematically categorize it would be impossible. However, we might consider some of the most prosperous of Britain’s overseas colonies and look at how they added diversity to the empire. The largest and most profitable British colony was undoubtedly India. The British Raj by the 1860s was a multiethnic, multidenominational polity. The Indian subcontinent is itself an incredibly diversified place, and British colonists there were exposed to a massive array of ethnic and religious differences. In the north and northeast, Kashmir, Bengal, and the states of the Punjab, Hinduism was the predominant religion. These places also contained practitioners of Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, and Christianity. Hinduism and Islam were also the dominant religions of Bombay, on the west coast. However, because of its trade connections, the population of the city consisted of peoples from all over the world.
British colonies and spheres of influence in Africa, China, southeast Asia including Malaysia and Burma, the Caribbean, and elsewhere expanded this ethnic and religious diversity. By 1900, there was no major religion that wasn’t practiced in at least one part of the British empire. Peoples of all different racial and ethnic backgrounds could consider themselves at least nominally associated with the British.