Dara Kay Cohen Photo
Professor of Public Policy

Dara Kay Cohen is a political scientist and Professor of Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Her research and teaching interests include the causes and consequences of civil war and other forms of political violence, gender and conflict, and qualitative and mixed research methods. She is currently serving as the Area Chair for the International and Global Affairs Area. 

Her first book, Rape During Civil War (Cornell University Press, 2016), examines the variation in the use of rape during recent civil conflicts; the research for the book draws on extensive fieldwork in Sierra Leone, Timor-Leste and El Salvador. The book received the 2017 Theodore J. Lowi First Book Award from the American Political Science Association, the 2018 Best Book Awards from the International Security Studies Section (ISSS) and the Feminist Theory and Gender Studies (FTGS) Section of the International Studies Association, and was a finalist for the Woodrow Wilson Book Award of the American Political Science Association. 

Cohen's second book, Lynching and Local Justice: Legitimacy and Accountability in Weak States, was published in 2020 with Cambridge University Press (Cambridge Elements: Political Economy series.) The book, coauthored with Danielle F. Jung, draws on original survey and focus group data collected during fieldwork in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. 

Her research has appeared or is forthcoming in the American Political Science Review, Annual Review of Political Science, International OrganizationInternational Security, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Journal of Global Security StudiesJournal of Peace Research, Political Behavior, PS: Political Science & Politics, Quarterly Journal of Political ScienceStanford Law ReviewThird World Quarterly, and World Politics, and has been funded by the National Science Foundation, Time-sharing Experiments for the Social Sciences (TESS), the United States Institute of Peace, Folke Bernadotte Academy (Sweden) and the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), among others.

Cohen is the co-winner of the 2023 J. David Singer Data Innovation Award for the Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict data project she co-directs; the award is given every two years by the Conflict Processes Section of the American Political Science Association. Cohen was the recipient of the 2019 Emerging Scholar Award from the International Security Studies Section (ISSS) of the International Studies Association. In 2014, Cohen received the Heinz I. Eulau Award for the best article published in the American Political Science Review in the previous year, and in 2011, Cohen was awarded the American Political Science Association's Award for Best Dissertation in Women and Politics.

Cohen is also an award-winning teacher; her courses have received the HKS Teaching Excellence Award (“Dinner on the Dean”) multiple times. 

Cohen received her Ph.D. in political science from Stanford University and an A.B. in political science and philosophy from Brown University. Cohen served as a paralegal in the Outstanding Scholars Program in the Counterterrorism Section of the U.S. Department of Justice from 2001-2003. Prior to joining the Kennedy School, she was an assistant professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

Academic Journal/Scholarly Articles


Research Papers/Reports


Transparent Engagement 

Harvard Kennedy School is proud of its energetic involvement in the world. To better understand how to solve public problems by improving policy and leadership, we engage directly with policymakers, public leaders, governments, nonprofit organizations, and for-profit businesses whose activities affect those problems. However, we recognize that such engagement can raise questions about perceived and potential conflicts of interest, so we disclose publicly the key professional activities of our faculty outside the Kennedy School. The activities disclosed below are for the most recent reporting period, as defined by University policy. Some may be paid, some may be unpaid, and others may be in exchange for expense reimbursement only.

Outside Professional Activities For Dara Kay Cohen

Organization Relationship
US Holocaust Memorial Museum Speaking engagement, invited lecture, or presentation


Human Rights
Fairness & Justice
Gender, Race & Identity
International Relations & Security

Mailing Address

Harvard Kennedy School
79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138